What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. They are not phases or fads. You don’t choose to have an eating disorder, and you don’t just “snap out of it.”

A person with an eating disorder experiences severe disturbances in eating behavior, such as eating extremely small amounts of food, purging food, or uncontrollable overeating, and psychological stress related to eating and/or their bodies. Common eating disorders include binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.

It is estimated that 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives. While understanding of eating disorders is constantly evolving, there are established realities.

Recovery is possible.

With adequate support and treatment, people can live in recovery from an eating disorder.

They do not discriminate.

Eating disorders affect people of all genders and any background, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. They disrupt the health and well-being of patients, their families, and their communities.

They are prevalent.

Eating disorders are as prevalent in the U.S. as breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia. Conservative estimates suggest that approximately 3 percent of males and 6 percent of females struggle with an eating disorder[i]. These percentages are higher among adolescents.

They have no single origin.

Several factors are thought to play a role in the development of an eating disorder. These include biological, psychological, emotional, cultural and social factors. The combination of causes and risk factors varies from person to person.

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 are deadly serious.

Every 62 minutes someone in the United States dies from an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Prevention is possible.

Prevention efforts can impact risk factors and reduce negative influences such as body dissatisfaction or unhealthy dieting.


[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.