Surprising Facts About Eating Disorders

General Facts and Stats

1. Experts estimate that up to 25-30 million individuals suffer from eating disorders. Even more individuals have eating problems that involve unhealthy dieting, bingeing, and purging.

2. Most eating disorders are neither anorexia nervosa nor bulimia nervosa. (Most eating disorders are something else that doctors cannot categorize and therefore name “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified” — EDNOS.)

3. Binge eating disorder affects more individuals than anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa combined.

4. By 1988, nearly three-fourths of Playboy models and two-thirds of Miss America contestants fit the weight criteria for anorexia nervosa.

5. Americans spend more than $40 billion dollars a year on dieting and diet-related products and $9.4 billion on plastic surgery.

6. Over exercise is a form of purging.

7 A binge is defined by overindulging well beyond the point of hunger and feeling helpless to stop.

8. Individuals have binged on as much as 10,000 calories in less than 2 hours.

9. Chronic dieting usually leads to binge eating as the body tried to compensate for starvation.

The Evolution of Eating Disorders Over Time

1. Two-thirds of individuals with eating disorders do not fully recover. (Half of that non-recovering group stays completely ill through their entire lives, while the other half either recovers and relapses or stops some but not all of their eating disordered behaviors.)

2. Up to 20 percent of women with anorexia die from their illness or its complications.

3. Over time, 15 percent of women with anorexia switch over to bulimia nervosa.

4. Over time, women with bulimia often replace vomiting with overexercise as a purging method.

5. Studies have found that up to 89% of bulimic patients show signs of tooth erosion.

Eating Disorders in Preteens and Adolescents

1. More than 80 percent of 10-year-old girls in the U.S. are afraid of being fat.

2. More than a third of girls ages 6-12 have been on at least one diet.

3. Three years after the introduction of TV into a Fijian village, almost a third of teenage girls were dieting, vomiting, and/or exercising. More than 10 percent became fully bulimic.

4. In a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa.

Eating Disorders in Relationships

1. Studies show that between a third and two-thirds of eating disorders begin after a marriage or partnership. The relationship causes the eating disorder.

2.  Many men (perhaps the majority) who marry women with eating disorders have no idea about their wives’ illnesses.

3. One man was unaware that his wife of thirty years had bulimia. He was a detective.

Eating Disorders in Pregnancy

1. Nearly 20 percent of women visiting a fertility clinic had diagnosable eating disorders.

2. In a study of women undergoing fertility treatment, obese women got pregnant 60 percent less often than women with moderate weights.

3. The majority of women with histories of eating problems cut down on or stop their disordered eating while pregnant. But three-quarters pick up at least some of their disordered eating symptoms within a year of giving birth.

4. Women with histories of bulimia are nearly twice as likely as the norm to suffer multiple miscarriages.

5. Women with histories of bulimia suffer post-partum depression three to ten times the norm.

Eating Disorders in Child Rearing

1. Babies can have a form of anorexia nervosa called “infantile anorexia nervosa.” They refuse to eat and so drop to below the 5th percentile for weight or weigh less than 80 percent of normal for at least a month.

2. By the age of 5, the children of mothers with histories of eating disorders already display symptoms of eating disorders: 34 percent overeat, 18 percent eat in secret, 10 percent vomit after overeating, and 10 percent refuse to eat.

3. In 2004, nearly one in six U.S. children was overweight or obese. The prevalence of childhood obesity has doubled in the last 30 years.

4. Girls with mothers who diet the most end up the heaviest when compared to their peers.

5. The worst blow to a child’s body image is what her parents say (their criticism about her body) rather than what they do (their dieting behaviors).

Eating Disorders in Midlife

1. Over the last 15 years, the number of women in midlife checking into eating disorders treatment centers has tripled or quadrupled. Most of that increase has occurred in the last 5 years.

2. There are at least 15 major transitions that occur in midlife that can spur on eating disorder.

3. Eating disorders increase the risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, and depression, common illnesses that first appear in midlife.

Eating Disorders in Late Life

1. In the medical literature, the oldest woman reported with an eating disorder, acquired anorexia at the age of 92.

2. After the age of 70, individuals actually have an easier time losing weight. But significant weight loss at this stage actually shortens a person’s lifespan.

3. There is a disease called “cholesterol phobia” in which individuals so obsessively diet and exercise to lower cholesterol that they succumb to infectious disease such as pneumonia and anorexia in late life.

4. The converse of “infantile anorexia” in babies is “anorexia tardive” in late life.

Eating Disorders in Recovery

1. When mandating health insurance reimbursement, most states do not consider eating disorders as mental illnesses.

2. According to the National Association for Eating Disorders, currently only 12 states have mandated insurance coverage for the treatment of eating disorders:

California
Connecticut
Delaware
Maine
Maryland
Minnesota
New York
North Dakota
Rhode Island
Vermont
Washington
West Virginia

3. In 2005, the National Institute of Mental Health Appropriated only $21 million for the study of eating disorders, which afflict at least 30 million. By contrast, officials earmarked $650 million for the research of Alzheimer’s Disease, which afflicts 4.5 million annually.


Sources include peer-reviewed journal articles, interviews with eating disorders experts and research from treatment centers such as Remuda Ranch and the Renfrew Center. For a full listing, see the “Notes” section of Lying in Weight.