Eating disorder facts

Eating disorders do not discriminate

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.

Eating disorders manifest across a wide spectrum of behaviors

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are not the only eating disorders. Compulsive overeating and binge eating disorder, combined with the categories Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) are more common than anorexia or bulimia.

Eating disorders are prevalent

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.

Eating disorders are often accompanied by other illness

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, morbid obesity, and other health issues.

Eating disorders are not a choice

Eating disorders aren’t a choice, behavior problem or lack of willpower. Eating disorders are 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.

Eating disorders are tough to live with

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.

Eating disorders are deadly serious

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 morbid obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other illnesses.

Eating disorders affect boys and men

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 using steroids or other dangerous drugs to increase muscle mass. Males with eating disorders exhibit many of the same emotional, physical, and behavioral signs and symptoms as females. However, since this is seen stereotypically as a “female” disorder, males are less likely to be diagnosed correctly and to seek help.

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