Eating Disorder Facts
Eating Disorder Facts

54 Interesting Eating Disorder Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published December 21, 2016Updated September 2, 2019
  • Nearly 10 million females and 1 million males have a form of anorexia or bulimia in the United States. Millions more are struggling with compulsive eating disorder. Additionally, over 70 million people worldwide struggle with an eating disorder.[4]
  • The number of reported cases of anorexia in young women between 15 and 19 has risen each decade since 1930.[4]
  • Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS), under which binge eating disorder falls.[5]
  • A normal, healthy amount of food for an average teenager or adult is about 1,800- 2,600 calories a day. During a bingeing episode, it is not unusual for someone to eat 20 to 25 times that amount, which is more than 50,000 calories—which is roughly equivalent to an entire extra-large pepperoni pizza, a tub of ice cream, a package of cookies, a bag of potato chips, and an entire cake. Bulimics might engage in this type of eating several times a day.[4]
  • Bulimics almost always binge on “forbidden food,” such as junk food or fast food. They often feel powerless to stop eating during binges.[4]
  • Bulimics who use laxatives believe they can prevent their bodies from absorbing food by fast elimination. However, nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, and laxatives work mainly in the large bowel. The only weight a person “loses” with a laxative is water. Bulimics often overuse laxatives, which can lead to inflammation of the intestinal lining, damage to the colon, severe dehydration, and decreased levels of potassium and sodium. Ironically, overuse of laxatives can also cause constipation.[2]
  • Interesting Eating Disorder Facts
    People with eating disorders often have a distorted body image
  • Anorexia nervosa (“an”-without, “orexia”-appetite, desire) is also known as the “rich girl’s syndrome.”[2]
  • Anorexia nervosa became an increasing problem during the Victorian era. Some researchers speculate that food was one of the few areas in life during that time where women had some control. Additionally, a woman with an appetite was associated with indulgence and lack of control. Conversely, a frail, pale, and thin woman was associated with femininity and attractiveness.[3]
  • Depression, loneliness, poor self-esteem, substance abuse, feelings of inadequacy, anger, and anxiety are common among people who develop eating disorders. Additionally, those who are praised or ridiculed for their weight or sexual development are also at greater risk.[2]
  • Studies suggest that genetic factors play a significant role in the development of eating disorders. Relatives of women with anorexia are 11 times more likely to have anorexia, and relatives of women with bulimia are almost four times at greater risk for bulimia.[5]
  • Eating disorders are associated with unstable or troubled family relationships. However, even loving and nurturing families may inadvertently foster an eating disorder by overemphasizing thinness or by having overly high expectations.[5]
  • Scientists suggest that some girls develop anorexia because they are afraid to separate from their parents, particularly their mothers. They develop an eating disorder to halt their sexual development as a way to avoid leaving childhood.[4]
  • Interesting Bulimia Facts
    The average age when bulimia begins is 20
  • The number of reported cases of bulimia in females ages 10-39 tripled between 1988 and 1993.[4]
  • British physician Sir Richard Morton (1637-1698) is considered to have recorded the earliest medical description of anorexic illness. He reported two cases, one in which the girl was “sad and anxious” and “pored over books.” The second case was a boy who was “prone to studying too hard.”[3]
  • The physician to Queen Victoria, Sir William Gull (1816-1890), was the first to coin the term anorexia nervosa in his text Anorexia Hysterica. His work helped move the study of anorexia into the field of psychiatry.[4]
  • In the late 1990s, websites called pro-ana (pro-anorexia) and pro-mia (pro-bulimia) were created for anorexics and bulimics to connect with one another. Many people on these sites deny that anorexia and bulimia are disorders and instead claim they are merely a lifestyle choice.[2]
  • Anorexia nervosa increased so rapidly in the 1980s in the U.S. that the disease became known as the “disorder of the 80s.”[2]
  • Bulimia (“bous”-ox, “limous”-hunger) nervosa first entered the English language in the late 1970s, though descriptions of bulimic behavior have been found in ancient texts.[2]
  • Orthorexics are obsessed with food quality rather than quantity. They are not so much obsessed with a thin body but personal purity.[3]
  • Tumors and lesions in the brain have been associated with the development of abnormal eating patterns and symptoms of eating disorders.[4]
  • Forty percent of new cases of anorexia are in girls between the ages of 15 and 19.[1]
  • Interesting Anorexia Nervosa Fact
    Anorexia is one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses in young women

  • Damage to the fetus’s brain either during pregnancy or during birth has been shown to contribute to ADHD and other personality traits associated with eating disorders.[4]
  • Approximately 10-15% of anorexics or bulimics are male. White males are the least likely to try to control their weight; Latino males are the most likely.[4]
  • The reason fewer boys develop eating disorders may be that they are older when they reach puberty and may be more emotionally prepared to deal with their changing bodies. Additionally, boys tend to be less critical of their bodies than girls.[4]
  • Testosterone may play a significant role in the origins of eating disorders in males. Studies show that males with anorexia may have problems producing testosterone.[4]
  • Weight loss in anorexics is most obvious in the arms and legs. The loss of subcutaneous fat (fat directly under the skin layers) makes the shape of the bones very easy to see.[4]
  • The heart rate of a person with anorexia might drop from a normal 60-100 beats per minute to lower than 60 beats a minute.[3]
  • Amenorrhea occurs in anorexics because extremely low body weight can interrupt hormone functions and stop ovulation. It can permanently affect a woman’s fertility.[3]
  • People with extreme anorexia will develop downy body hair that grows on the back, arms, legs, face and neck. This is called lanugo and is the body’s attempt to maintain a normal temperature after losing so much fat. This type of hair requires fewer calories to produce than normal hair.[2]
  • Interesting Anorexia Fact
    Males get eating disorders, too
  • Eating disorders usually begin in males around age 12-14; however, boys as young as 6 years old have been diagnosed. Eating disorders in boys usually begin for different reasons from girls. For example, nonathletic boys are less likely to develop an eating disorder than those who participate in sports. Nonathletic girls run the same risk as athletic girls.[4]
  • Due to repeated vomiting, bulimics may develop painful cracks in the corners of their mouths called cheilosis.[4]
  • Psychiatrist Gerald Russell, who is credited with publishing the first description of bulimia nervosa in 1979, noticed scarring on top of the bulimics’ hands due to the teeth rubbing on the hands as the person forces them back into the throat repeatedly. These scars are called “Russell’s signs.”[4]
  • A University of Southern California study in 2009 revealed that African American girls are 50% more likely to be bulimic than white girls. Additionally, girls from families in the lowest income bracket studied are 153% more likely to be bulimic than girls from the highest income bracket.[4]
  • Dennis Quaid battled anorexia after shedding weight to play a man dying from tuberculosis in the film Wyatt Earp in the mid 1990s.[4]
  • Compulsive (or binge) eating disorder is similar to bulimia in several ways. In both disorders, a person feels guilt and remorse about overeating. However, people who suffer from compulsive eating disorder do not purge. They also are often overweight or obese, placing them at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.[5]
  • Anorexia typically begins at or just after puberty. Bulimia occurs in slightly older females, typically around 18. More people suffer from compulsive eating disorder than from bulimia or anorexia.[4]
  • Certain professions such as dancing, modeling, and horse racing have higher-than-average rates of eating disorders.[4]
  • Interesting History of Anorexia
    In 1380, St. Saint Catherine of Siena starved herself to death, which was interpreted as a form of religious asceticism
  • During the Middle Ages, fasting was believed to bring a person closer to God. In the 1300s, for example, St. Catherine of Siena was famous for her ability to live on very small amounts of food. Supposedly, she also would make herself vomit by sticking a twig down her throat.[3]
  • It is estimated that 20-40% of models suffer from some type of eating disorder. Some groups are urging the fashion industry to ban the use of size “0” models. Size 0 usually corresponds to someone who has a Body Mass Index (BMI) below 18.5. An adult who has a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered to be at a healthy weight. An adult with a BMI of 25.0-29.9 is considered overweight. An adult with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.[4]
  • Anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. Approximately one in 10 cases of anorexia nervosa ends in death.[1]
  • In the U.S., 1-2% of the female population and 0.1-0.2 % of males suffer from anorexia.[1]
  • Anorexia can stunt growth, cause osteoporosis, delay sexual development, cause kidney and heart problems, lower blood pressure, and cause chest and stomach pain, heartburn, constipation, and death.[2]
  • Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women. The average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds. The average model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds.[4]
  • In 1995, before television was common in Fiji, Fijians thought the ideal body shape was round, plump, and soft. After three years of watching American shows such as Melrose Place and Beverley Hills 90210, girls in Fiji began developing eating disorders. Fijian females who watched TV three or more hours a night were 50% more likely to feel “too big” or “too fat” than those who watched less TV.[4]
  • Anorexia affects people of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds; however, young white women who are high academic achievers are more likely to develop the illness.[4]
  • We turn skeletons into goddesses and look to them as if they might teach us how not to need.

    - Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

  • Girls with ADHD and PTSD are at an increased risk for developing eating disorders and depression. Additionally, studies show that girls in foster care are at an increased risk for developing an eating disorder.[4]
  • Although anorexia is more common among young people than any other age group, it is more deadly in the elderly. From 1986 to 1990, the elderly accounted for 78% of all deaths due to anorexia.[4]
  • Purging causes serious health problems, including severe tooth decay, swollen cheeks and salivary glands, dangerous loss of potassium that can lead to fatal heart problems, and a ruptured esophagus or stomach. Like anorexia, bulimia also damages the body’s organs, including the stomach and kidneys.[3]
  • The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that only 30-40% of anorexics ever fully recover.[5]
  • Of those suffering from an eating disorder, only 1 in 10 will receive treatment. Men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because such disorders are typically perceived as a “woman’s disease.”[5]
  • Interesting Fact about Anorexia
    Karen Carptenter, the lead singer of The Carpenters, died of heart failure related to her struggle with anorexia
  • Celebrities who have had a history of eating disorders include Paula Abdul, Karen Carpenter, Jane Fonda, Elton John, Princess Diana, Lynn Redgrave, Billy Bob Thornton, and Joan Rivers.[4]
  • Nearly 14% of gay men suffer from bulimia and over 20% suffer from anorexia. Scientists believe, however, that such high numbers for homosexuals may be due to their being more comfortable admitting to an eating disorder and seeking treatment, not that homosexuality is a factor in developing an eating disorder.[4]
  • Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness in adolescents.[4]
  • An eating disorder is characterized by abnormal eating patterns that attempt to satisfy a psychological rather than physical need. The three most common disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation, weight loss, an irrational fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of compulsive binging followed by purging through various means, such as vomiting, laxative/diuretic abuse, and extreme exercising. Binge eating disorder is the most common disorder and is characterized by frequent periods of compulsive overeating without accompanying purging behaviors.[4]
  • Unrealistic Body Expectations[4]

    Average U.S. WomanBarbie DollStore Mannequin
    Weight145 lbs.101 lbs.N/A
    Dress size11-1444

    Eating Disorder Symptoms[4]
    Bulimia NervosaBinge Eating DisorderAnorexia Nervosa
    Preoccupied with shape and weightPreoccupied with shape and weightSignificantly underweight with a Body Mass Index less that 17.5 or weight less than 85 lbs
    Bingeing: consuming an objectively large quantity of food while feeling a loss of controlBingeing: consuming an objectively large quantity of food while feeling a loss of controlIntense fear of weight gain
    Eat many “forbidden” foodsEat many “forbidden” foodsSelf-starvation: trying to go as long as possible without eating
    Eat in secret; hide foodEat in secret; hide foodExtremely rigid diet
    Feel disgust about bodyFeel disgust about bodyMay include binges
    Check shape/weight with daily weighing, pinch body fat, try on “skinny” clothesCheck shape/weight with daily weighing, pinch body fat, try on “skinny” clothes
    Disrupted social life because avoids eatingDisrupted social life because avoids eating
    Purging: vomiting, abusing laxatives, and/or excessive exercising after meals or bingeingFeel ashamed about eating and want to be more in control
    Percentage of Americans Affected[4]
    Bulimia NervosaBinge Eating DisorderAnorexia Nervosa
    2-5%2-5%; 30% of overweight adults< 1% of adolescent young adults

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