Eating disorders affect every gender, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. People from preteens to seniors may have eating disorders. Their struggles with food disrupt the health and well-being of the individual, as well as that of their families and their communities.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are not the only eating disorders. Compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder (BED), combined with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) are actually more prevalent than anorexia or bulimia.
In the U.S. alone, more than 30 million people will struggle with an eating disorder.
Among adolescents, eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness. Eating disorders are as prevalent or more prevalent than breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia. All deserve timely treatment, but eating disorder treatment resources are far less available than those for other serious illnesses.
People with eating disorders are also struggling with other issues, including substance use disorder (SUD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sexual abuse history, depression, anxiety disorder, and other health issues.
Eating disorders aren’t a choice, behavior problem, or lack of willpower. An eating disorder is an illness with biological and genetic roots that are influenced by culture.
People with eating disorders may soothe their discomfort, stress, uncertainty, pain, sadness, or desires with food until their health—and maybe their life—is in danger. Many people who are recovered from eating disorders say their illness functioned as a companion—but that the relationship was abusive and destructive. Eating disorder rituals offered an illusory sense of stability, reliability, predictability, and control. But the illness also had characteristics of an abusive relationship, as disordered behaviors and thinking reinforce misconceptions and beliefs—leading the person to feel trapped in unhappiness and serious danger.
Interacting with a loved one struggling with eating disorder symptoms can be difficult. Family and friends may worry that they won’t “do it right.” Remember, family and friends are important resources for a loved one’s recovery.
In the U.S., someone dies every 52 minutes as a direct result of an eating disorder.
Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any other psychiatric disorder. For females between 15 and 24 who suffer from anorexia, the mortality rate is 12 times higher than all other causes of death, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Anorexia and bulimia can result in heart failure, suicide, early-onset osteoporosis, amenorrhea, kidney failure, pancreatitis, and other serious problems. Binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating can lead to Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other illnesses.
There is a stereotype that only women experience eating disorders. In reality, eating disorders affect people of all genders, including men, transgender people, and non-binary people. Approximately 10 percent of people with eating disorders are male, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some males with an eating disorder want to lose weight, while others want to gain weight or “bulk up,” raising the risk for steroid or substance use to increase muscle mass.
Gender-expansive individuals—which describes a variety of gender identities that do not fit within the constraints of cisgender (an individual whose assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity) or binary gender identities (woman or man)—can have a higher chance of forming disordered eating habits or an eating disorder for a variety of reasons, including discrimination, stigma, and prejudice. There are specific difficulties that each group within the gender-expansive umbrella face. For example, transgender people may feel pressure from society to fulfill the unrealistic body ideals of their specific gender identity.
For more information about eating disorders and our services, please contact us. We’re here to help.
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