Group: Everybody knows someone struggling with an eating disorder

Millions battling an eating disorder in the US

Romaine leaf on white plate Do you know someone with an eating disorder? According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), you probably do. NEDA statistics show as many as 10 million American females and 1 million males are dealing with eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. More may be struggling with binge eating.

In order to draw awareness to the seriousness of these conditions, February 26, 2012 marks the beginning of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

What is an eating disorder?

The term “eating disorder” refers to a broad group of conditions involving abnormal eating habits.

Sometimes the condition involves not eating enough, such as anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Sometimes the condition is defined by excessive food intake, as in the case of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. In all cases, an eating disorder can threaten an individual’s physical and mental health.

Bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder are the most common specific forms in the United States, but an eating disorder can also include a combination of signs and symptoms and not meet the full criteria.

Learn more about specific eating disorders here.

What causes an eating disorder?

Experts have different opinions as to the causes of an eating disorder, and scientists are still learning about the underlying causes. Often they involve a preoccupation with food or weight loss, but emotional and mental factors could also be involved. NEDA says some factors that may contribute to eating disorders may include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
  • Troubled personal relationships
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Cultural pressures that glorify “thinness” and place value on obtaining the “perfect body”
  • Biochemical or biological causes
  • Genetics

Read more on contributing factors here.

What are the health consequences?

Eating disorders can have damaging effects on an individual’s body and mind, and the health effects can varying depending on the specific disorder.


  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which could lead to heart failure.
  • Bone density loss, which could result in brittle bones
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
  • Dry hair and skin;
  • Growth of lanugo all over the body, a downy layer of hair, in an
    effort to keep the body warm.


  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death.
  • Potential for gastric rupture
  • Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting
  • Tooth decay and staining
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis

Binge Eating Disorder

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Heart disease
  • Type II diabetes mellitus
  • Gallbladder disease

Read more about the health consequences here.

What is the treatment for an eating disorder?

It’s important to make sure any eating disorder is properly diagnosed, so the first step is to have an eating disorder assessed by a licensed and competent health provider.

Once diagnosed, your health provider can help determine what type of treatment is needed, where it should be provided and who should give treatment. Treatment for an eating disorder could involve a team of professionals, from therapists to nutritionists and primary care physicians. It should be tailored to the individual to take into account unique problems and needs.

For more information about eating disorders, treatments and how to talk to friends and family who may be struggling with eating disorders, visit the resources provided by NEDA.