What are Eating Disorders?

An eating disorder is marked by extremes. A person with an eating disorder experiences severe disturbances in eating behavior, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating, and psychological stress related to eating and/or their bodies. Eating disorders are an illness that affects the body and the mind. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spiraled out of control, leading to severe disturbances in eating such as dramatic calorie reduction, purging behaviors, uncontrollable overeating, and/or unrelenting distress about body weight and shape. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

It is estimated that eating disorders impact 70 million individuals worldwide and 14 million Americans. Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that affect individuals across gender, age, ethnicity, and income level.  Below you will find Essential Facts about Eating Disorders.

They do not discriminate.  Eating disorders affect people of all genders, of any background, from preteen to senior.  They disrupt the health and well-being of patients, their families, and their communities.

They manifest across a wide spectrum of behaviors.  Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are not the only eating disorders.  In fact, binge eating disorder is  more common than anorexia or bulimia.

They are prevalent.  Conservative estimates suggest that approximately 3 percent of males and 6 percent of females struggle with an eating disorder[i].  Among adolescents, the prevalence is 14 percent among females and 6.5 percent among males [ii].

Their prevalence far exceeds treatment resources.  Eating disorders are as or more prevalent in the U.S. than breast cancer, HIV and schizophrenia.  All deserve timely treatment. However, treatment and other resources for eating disorders are far less available than those for breast cancer, HIV and schizophrenia.

They are often accompanied by other issues.  People with eating disorders sometimes struggle with other conditions, like chemical dependency, PTSD, sexual abuse, depression, anxiety disorder, morbid obesity, and other problems.

They have no single origin.  Eating disorders are affected by, and affect in turn, biological, psychological, emotional, familial, cultural, spiritual, sexual, gender, and social factors.

They are deadly serious.  Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.  All eating disorders can have multiple and sometimes irreversible physical consequences[iii].

Recovery is possible.  Eating disorders don’t have to be a lifelong struggle. With adequate support and treatment, people can recover.




[i] Hudson JI, Hiripi E, Pope HG Jr, Kessler RC. The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 1;61(3):348-58. Epub 2006 Jul 3.

[ii] Kjelsås E, Bjørnstrøm C, Götestam KG. Prevalence of eating disorders in female and male adolescents (14-15 years). Eat Behav. 2004 Jan;5(1):13-25