Eating Disorders – More Common Than You May Think
David Prescott, Ph.D. - Acadia Hospital
July 14, 2009
Eating Disorders are More Common than You Think: Eating Disorders, which include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, are estimated to impact about 10 million people in the United States.
Another alarming statistic: Anorexia nervosa has the highest premature death rate of any psychiatric disorder. However, there is some good news. While treatment for anorexia may take several years, treatment outcomes over the long run are generally better than other conditions relating to weight, such as treatment for obesity.
What are the Types of Eating Disorders?
1. Anorexia Nervosa involves having a distorted body image where a person sees themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously thin. People with anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight, and often develop unusual habits such as refusing to eat around other people. Anorexia usually occurs in women, and is often accompanied by infrequent or absent menstrual periods.
2. Bulimia Nervosa involves eating excessive quantities of food, sometimes in secret, then trying to purge the body of the food and calories by using laxatives, vomiting, exercising or diuretics. People with bulimia nervosa usually feel ashamed and disgusted as they binge, yet also feel relieved of tension once the binge-purge cycle is complete.
3. Binge Eating Disorder involves frequent episodes of excessive, out-of-control eating. However, there is no attempt to purge the body of excess calories.
How do I know if I am at risk for an Eating Disorder? Obviously, the determination of when concerns with food, eating and body image cross the line from “normal concern” to “psychological problem” varies from person to person. However, if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, it may suggest that you are at risk for an eating disorder:
- Are you constantly preoccupied with weight and intense fear of becoming fat?
- Do you believe that your body weight needs to be below what is recommended by physician or dietician?
- If you are a woman, have you skipped or stopped a menstrual period when you were losing weight?
- Do you frequently feel out of control when you eat?
- How much of your eating is secretive or hidden from others?
- Have you tried, or strongly considered, trying to lose weight by vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising according to how much you eat?
What Causes Eating Disorders? Many people believe that American society is largely to blame for the high rate of eating disorders, since we emphasize thinness and appearance to an extreme degree. Adolescent and young women account for 90 percent of eating disorder cases according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Other factors which appear to play a role include:
- Personality traits like low self-esteem, perfectionism, or feeling helpless.
- Family relationships that involve excessive teasing about appearance, or excessive emphasis on dieting or controlling food intake.
- Other psychological disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, or substance abuse.
- It is important to understand eating disorders as a treatable psychological disorder, rather than a failure of will or lack of behavioral control.
Is Treatment for Eating Disorders Necessary? The sooner that treatment starts for an eating disorder, the easier it is to treat. Eating disorders don’t usually go away by themselves. And, if left untreated, eating disorders can cause serious physical problems (like anemia, tooth decay, and hair and bone loss) as well as severe emotional distress, getting help is vitally important. Treatment often involves working with a licensed psychologist or therapist, dietician, and physician.
Where else can I find help?
Information about eating disorders is available at:
Information about mental health and substance abuse, including eating disorders is available at: