People with Eating Disorders: The Facts

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According to AP Psychology Glossary, eating disorders are characterized by “problematic eating patterns, extreme concerns about body weight, and inappropriate behaviors aimed at controlling body weight.” About 24 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, and about 95 percent of those are between the ages of 12 and 26. Roughly 15 percent of people with anorexia and bulimia are male and only 10 percent of men and women receive treatment. Males are less likely to seek help because they believe the condition is a “woman’s disease”. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

The term anorexia means “loss of appetite”; however, this is not true of the disease. People with anorexia are hungry - they starve themselves because they have an extreme fear of gaining weight. Anorexics are below their normal body weight, and most see themselves as fat even when they are emaciated. They are obsessed with how many calories they consume, and often exercise excessively to burn off the calories.

An estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of women suffer from this condition in their lifetime, and about 1 percent of female adolescents have anorexia - it is the third most common chronic illness among teenagers. Sometimes people with anorexia can accept they are very thin, but they have a hard time understanding how dangerous their situation is. Starvation has many negative effects on the mind and body. About 50 percent of people with anorexia also have depression, and about 20 percent of anorexics die prematurely from complications such as heart problems and suicide. The earlier treatment is started, the better the outcome - the disorder worsens as it progresses, making it more difficult to treat.

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia go through episodes of binging and purging. Binging involves eating a large amount of food over a short period of time. Purging involves compensating for the binge due to their lack of control over eating - this is often done by vomiting, taking laxatives, exercising excessively and/or fasting.

An estimated 1.1 to 4.2 percent of women have bulimia in their lifetime, and about half of the people who have had anorexia develop bulimic patterns. Bulimics often fear gaining weight, are unhappy with their bodies, are aware they are doing their bodies harm and are ashamed of their condition. Many are at their ideal weight, while others may be under or overweight. Dramatic shifts of weight may also occur. Like anorexics, bulimics often have coexisting psychological conditions like depression. Complications from the purging aspect of the illness include gastrointestinal problems, oral and tooth related problems and electrolyte imbalances.

Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by episodes of binge eating that are not followed by purging, despite the person’s feelings of guilt or shame after eating. As a result, most people with BED are overweight or obese, and many struggle with depression, anxiety and loneliness. About half of those who are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy go into remission, and the overall prognosis of BED is better than bulimia.

Other eating disorders include:

Night Eating - A lack of appetite in the morning and overeating at night with insomnia.

Sleep Eating - Compulsive binge eating during sleepwalking.

Bigorexia - An obsession with increasing muscle mass.

Orthorexia - An obsession with eating only healthy foods.

Pica - A compulsive craving for eating non-food items or foods with no nutrition, such as chalk, paint chips, glue, starch and coffee grounds.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) - A type of eating disorder that does not have all the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia.


Many people struggle with food during times in their lives, but not everyone develops an eating disorder. Only 20 to 25 percent of “normal dieters” progress to eating disorders, and there are a number of reasons why including genetics, psychological issues (such as lack of self esteem, need to control, high family expectations and sexual abuse), and social issues (such as reactions to people who are overweight or obese). No one factor causes an eating disorder, and anybody can develop one. Famous people who have experienced eating disorders include Karen Carpenter, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Richard Simmons, Paula Abdul, Alanis Morissette, Matthew Perry, Lindsay Lohan, Billy Bob Thornton, Mary-Kate Olsen and Princess Diana.


National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

Eating Disorders Online:

Eating Disorders Guide: