Since the onset of the pandemic, the incidence of eating disorders has surged by 30%, affecting individuals at younger ages. The combination of social isolation during lockdowns and increased usage of social media platforms like Instagram served as catalysts for many latent disorders and provided fertile ground for the emergence of new ones.

Eating disorders serve a function; they act as a lifeline, a way to cope when life feels uncontrollable or overwhelming. Clinging to false control over food, exercise, and body image provides a sense of security amidst uncertainty. And in the face of a pandemic, characterized by uncertainty, this sense of control became more appealing. Thus, a perfect storm brewed slowly, fueled by memes, recipes, and online workout classes, creating an environment conducive to the development of eating disorders under the guise of self-care during a global crisis.

The Reality of Eating Disorders

According to Dr. Marina Díaz Marsá, President of the Spanish Society of Psychiatry and Head of the Eating Disorders Unit at the University Hospital Clínico San Carlos in Madrid, one in every five patients with anorexia dies by suicide. Additionally, 25% of individuals with eating disorders have attempted suicide, and 60% experience suicidal thoughts and engage in self-harm.

Despite increasing awareness of eating disorders, numerous myths persist, hindering effective understanding and treatment. Let’s debunk some of the most prevalent myths:

Myth 1: Eating Disorder Patients are Underweight

Contrary to popular belief, only 7% of individuals with eating disorders are underweight according to Body Mass Index (BMI). Relying solely on weight as a diagnostic criterion overlooks many cases, leading individuals to refrain from seeking help because they don’t feel “sick enough” due to not meeting the underweight stereotype. Using weight as a primary indicator for detecting and diagnosing eating disorders is negligent.

Myth 2: Eating Disorders Only Affect Women

While eating disorders are more common in women, with nine out of ten cases occurring in females, they also affect men. However, societal stigma makes it harder for men to identify as sufferers and seek help.

Myth 3: Having an Eating Disorder is a Choice

Eating disorders have multifactorial causes and are not a matter of personal choice. Risk factors include genetic predisposition, personality traits like perfectionism and high levels of self-demand, adolescence, being female, and comorbidity with other mental illnesses such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety. Social factors like pressure regarding body image and success linked to thinness, certain sports or professions emphasizing specific physical appearances (e.g., ballet, modeling, gymnastics), and comments about one’s body during childhood or adolescence also contribute to vulnerability to eating disorders.

Myth 4: Eating Disorders Only Affect Adolescents

While eating disorders often emerge during adolescence, they can affect individuals of all ages, with an increasing trend of onset as early as 12 years old. The average age of onset ranges from 17 to 25 years, but a significant proportion of middle-aged women exhibit symptoms consistent with eating disorders. Thus, the notion that eating disorders are confined to adolescence is erroneous.

Myth 5: Strict Diets and Fad Diets are Not Dangerous

While strict diets are not direct causes of eating disorders, 40% of cases are triggered by dieting. Therefore, it’s crucial to prioritize health over fad diets and protect children from restrictive eating habits. Imposing diets or constantly monitoring children’s weight can lead to binge eating disorder. The disorder, characterized by consuming large quantities of food within a short period, often in solitude, induces feelings of shame and emotional distress. Until recently, individuals with binge eating disorder were prescribed weight loss diets, exacerbating the condition and fostering shame around food consumption.


Eating disorders transcend age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. These disorders pose significant challenges, particularly during festive seasons. To support individuals with eating disorders, refrain from discussing food, commenting on anyone’s eating habits or physical changes, including your own. Let’s celebrate in peace and foster a supportive environment for those struggling with eating disorders.

Nutrition with Science: A Call to Action

“NUTRIR CON CIENCIA” is a section dedicated to evidence-based nutrition, curated by a team of dietitians and nutritionists. Eating is not only a pleasure but also a necessity, and dietary habits play a crucial role in preventing various diseases, from cancer to diabetes. By debunking myths and promoting scientific knowledge, we aim to encourage healthy eating habits and dismantle misconceptions that contribute to unhealthy eating behaviors.

With increased awareness and collective action, we can combat the rising tide of eating disorders and foster a culture of acceptance and support for those affected. Let’s prioritize health and well-being, not only during the holiday season but every day. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of individuals battling eating disorders.

By Danny