Eating disorders are complex mental and physical health conditions that affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. They are usually characterized by a disturbance in eating behavior as well as an unhealthy relationship with food.
Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the population worldwide. In the US alone, it has been estimated that at least 28.8 million Americans will face an eating disorder once in their lifetime. In India, eating disorders affect an estimated 2–3% of the Indian population, with a higher incidence among women. The study conducted by The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in 2015 found that eating disorders were increasing in India, affecting around 2% of the Indian population, with more women being affected than men. Another study conducted in 2018 found that eating disorders affected 6.5% of adolescent girls in India.
Ten Facts About Eating Disorders
Understanding the facts about eating disorders is crucial for promoting awareness and effective treatment. Knowledge about eating disorders fosters empathy for individuals affected, encouraging intervention before the condition escalates into a more serious, life-threatening situation. Here are ten facts about eating disorders:
1. There Are Three Most Common Types of Eating Disorders
- Anorexia entails self-imposed starvation.
- Bulimia encompasses episodes of overeating followed by compensatory behaviors.
- Binge-eating disorder is characterized by the consumption of large amounts of food without subsequent compensatory actions.
2. The Most Common Eating Disorder is “Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder”
Besides the three types of eating disorders that were previously thought to be the most common, studies have found an even more common eating disorder that does not meet the criteria for any of the primary ones. Called OSFED or Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder, it is fortunately a diagnostic category that represents different ways that eating disorders can present themselves. OFSED is a boost for health professionals struggling to understand the diversity of eating disorders and how not all symptoms fit into one box.
3. Eating Disorders: A Common Theory of Being a Cultural Phenomenon Debunked
Two decades ago, it was believed that eating disorders were solely influenced by culture and environment. However, in 2016, studies began finding out how faulty neurobiology was causing disorders like bulimia and anorexia, debunking the myth of eating disorders being culturally driven. According to a feature in the American Psychological Association journal of 2016, scientists like Nancy Zucker, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, stated that eating disorders could even be hereditary. One study to this effect found that in people with anorexia, the release of dopamine in the dopamine-related reward circuitry triggered anxiety rather than pleasure, indicating that eating disorders were indeed a mental health problem.
4. Extremely Picky Eating is an Eating Disorder
Yes, picky eating is a sign of an eating disorder. Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) has now been recognized as an official eating disorder in the context of mental illness. If a child or teen displays excessive picky eating habits that begin to impact their health, it may well be ARFID.
5. Eating Disorders Affects All Ages and Genders
Contrary to common stereotypes, eating disorders are not limited to a specific age group or gender. While these conditions often emerge during adolescence or young adulthood, individuals of all ages can be affected. Additionally, eating disorders affect both men and women, challenging the misconception that they exclusively impact females. Research suggests that about 25% of individuals with eating disorders are male. Moreover, research has found that 1 in 5 teenagers with bulimia nervosa and 1 in 4 teenagers with anorexia nervosa are male.
6. 12,200 People Every Year, or 1 Person Every 52 Minutes Succumbs to an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Harvard University’s STRIPED, (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders), in collaboration with the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) and Deloitte Access Economics, conducted an extensive research study of eating disorders in 2019 and found alarming figures that warranted immediate steps to combat eating disorders in the USA. The report found how eating disorders were affecting people from 5 to 50 and taking the lives of 12,200 people every year. This meant 1 person every 52 minutes dies from an eating disorder.
7. Restrictive Diets Contribute to Eating Disorders
Diet culture is a worldwide trend, with diet fads getting too restrictive for good health. It is a dangerous development, which nutritionists and researchers say is one of the biggest risks of eating disorders. Individuals keen on faster weight loss results should not be fooled into intermittent fasting and various trending patterns. Given the fact that there may be success stories, however, 90% of diets fail. An ED often begins with efforts to lose weight but sooner or later develops into severe and debilitating conditions.
8. People With Eating Disorders Are Often Diagnosed With Mental Health Issues
Research has found that 71% of people with eating disorders also suffer from anxiety and mood disorders. Moreover, it was also found that 22% suffered from General Anxiety Disorder with the most prevalent symptoms in those with a low BMI or who resorted to excessive exercising. GAD was characterized by the following:
- Restlessness or feeling edgy
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleeping problems
9. Eating Disorders Can Severely Impact Health
Eating disorders, when left untreated, can soon begin to affect various organ systems. In individuals with anorexia nervosa, severe malnutrition can lead to organ failure, osteoporosis, and electrolyte imbalances. Bulimia nervosa can result in gastrointestinal issues, dental problems, and electrolyte imbalances due to purging behaviors. Binge-eating disorder is associated with obesity-related health concerns, such as heart disease and diabetes.
10. Eating Disorders Are a Way of Managing Uncomfortable Emotions
Most people confuse eating disorders with slimming, but it has nothing to do with that. ED behaviors like binge eating, restrictive dieting, and purging are usually adopted to find relief from mental issues and escape from unwanted emotions associated with these behaviors. Treatment for ED focuses on helping an afflicted individual cope through self-affirmation practices and therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). These seek to alter destructive behaviors and improve one’s quality of life.
Understanding the facts about eating disorders is an essential step toward breaking down stigma, promoting awareness, and fostering a compassionate approach to mental health. Education of individuals about the risk factors and warning signs of eating disorders is crucial for prevention. However, what is more important is for communities, families, and schools to promote a mindset of positive body image, self-esteem, and a healthy relationship with food, thus creating a culture that rejects unrealistic beauty standards and adopts good health and wellbeing.