Eating Disorders Statistics and Most Common Disorders

Written By: Callen

    Struggling with an eating disorder is not uncommon, but it is treatable. Statistics indicate that 28.8 million Americans, about 9% of the population, have or will have an eating disorder at some time in their life. Eating disorders include binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa. These are some of the most serious forms of eating disorders, which can be fatal if left untreated. They cause severe changes to a person’s eating behavior and, over time, can lead to malnutrition and numerous health complications.

    Consider these statistics:

    • The median age for onset of an eating disorder is 21 years old for binge eating or 18 years of age for bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, as noted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMN).
    • The prevalence of binge eating disorder is 1.2% of the US adult population, with females making up twice as many people as men.
    • Additionally, about 0.3% of US adults struggle with bulimia, and 0.6% struggle with anorexia nervosa, with women accounting for at least half of all cases.

    The NIMN also notes that not everyone seeks help that could do so. The data shows that these percentages of people with the condition seek help:

    • 8% of those with anorexia nervosa
    • 2% of those with bulimia nervosa
    • 6% of those with binge eating disorder

    What is happening, and why does it occur? Consider the following information on what you should know about eating disorders.

    What is an Eating Disorder?

    An eating disorder is a serious condition that displays a severe disturbance of a person’s eating behaviors and is often directly linked to thought patterns and emotional well-being. Those with one of these conditions often have a preoccupation with their body weight, food itself, or other related conditions.

    What are the Signs of an Eating Disorder?

    An eating disorder’s signs and symptoms depend on the type of disorder present (more on the most common types of eating disorders in a moment). Often, those with an eating disorder may struggle with symptoms such as:

    • Limited range of preferred foods
    • Obsession or constantly talking about food
    • Dramatic weight loss
    • Pain in the abdomen or gastrointestinal issues
    • Changes in eating habits

    What Causes Eating Disorders?

    The most common causes of eating disorders include genetic factors, body dissatisfaction, dieting, trauma, and difficulty controlling or managing emotions. For some, it relates to depression, while for many others, eating disorders occur as a direct result of being a perfectionist and trying to attain the perfect body.

    The most common risk factors for eating disorders include:

    • A family history: Those who have parents or siblings with eating disorders may be more likely to have one.
    • Mental health disorders: Those who have other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, are at an increased risk of having an eating disorder.
    • Dieting and starvation: Some people find that eating disorders occur as a result of excessive dieting or starving the body of nutrients. This can lead to changes in mood and anxiety in itself.
    • Weight bullying trauma: People who have had a history of weight bullying may be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
    • Stress and emotional upheaval: For some, high levels of stress or emotional concerns can lead to the onset of an eating disorder.

    Understanding the risk factors and getting help for those with an eating disorder is critical to protecting a person’s life. Data from a Harvard research study found that every 52 minutes, a person dies as a result of an eating disorder in the US. Other studies have found that eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any type of psychiatric illness, behind the substance use disorder of opiate addiction.

    Types of Eating Disorders

    The following are the most common types of eating disorders. These are some of the most common, though others exist.

    Anorexia nervosa

    Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder involving the avoidance of food or having a very restricted type or amount of food eaten. Some people may be hyper-focused on their weight, with many being dangerously underweight. There are two forms: restrictive, which involves severe limitations on food intake, and binge-purge, in which people will eat a large amount of food in a short period and then use diuretics or vomiting to expel it.

    The signs of anorexia nervosa include:

    • Extremely restricted eating
    • Intense fear of gaining weight
    • Unhealthy view of their body weight
    • Constantly looking for ways to reduce their weight
    • Distorted body image
    • Extreme thinness, often including emaciation

    Bulimia nervosa

    Bulimia nervosa is a type of recurrent and frequent episode of eating large amounts of food with a lack of control. A person with this type of eating disorder will often eat a large amount of food before then forcing themselves to vomit or fast. Some will also use laxatives or excessive exercise after consuming a high level of calories. People with bulimia nervosa are often slightly underweight but can also be of normal body weight or even overweight.

    Common signs of bulimia nervosa include:

    • Chronic inflammation of the throat
    • Swollen salivary glands
    • Damage to teeth, including advanced decaying
    • Severe dehydration
    • Acid reflux disorder
    • Electrolyte imbalances which put a person at a higher risk of strokes and heart attacks

    Binge-eating disorder

    In a binge-eating disorder, a person loses control over how much they are consuming and will have reoccurring episodes of eating very large amounts of food. The difference here is that they do not purge the food or fast afterward. Those with binge-eating disorder tend to be overweight or obese.

    Symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

    • Eating very large amounts of food within a short period of time
    • Eating fast
    • Eating when full or not hungry
    • Eating when distressed

    Do I Have an Eating Disorder?

    To know if you have an eating disorder, consider the previous signs. If you feel that you have any of these or other distorted thoughts about eating, seeking treatment is critical. If you feel any of the following symptoms, seek out help:

    • Intense desire to eat a large amount of food
    • Eating when not hungry
    • Not eating specific foods with severe restriction
    • Feeling as if you are always overweight
    • Emotional trauma

    Eating Disorder Treatments

    Comprehensive care from a therapist is the starting point for treatment for eating disorders, but some people may also need medical care. Treatment options may include:

    • Psychotherapy
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy
    • Medications
    • Nutritional counseling
    • Medical care for symptoms and complications

    Resources for Eating Disorders

    There are numerous resources to help those with eating disorders get help. The NIMH offers a few resources:

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