What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are a group of conditions characterized by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and emotional health, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa being the most common specific forms in the United States.

Reasons for eating disorders are poorly known but may vary from person to person. Factors contributing to eating disorders range from ADHD to mental health disorders to body image. Some think that peer pressure and idealized body-types seen in the media are also a significant factor.

No Body is Perfect

What are some facts?

Here are is the astonishing truth:

In the United States:

  • It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – seven million women and one million men
  • One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia
  • Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
  • Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder (Note: One in five Americans suffers from mental illnesses.)
  • An estimated 10 – 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are males

In Canada:

  • In 2005, more than 500,000 Canadians suffered from some sort of eating disorder (Canadian Mental Health Association).
  • According to a 2002 survey, 1.5% of Canadian women aged 15 – 24 years had an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, between 18-20%
  • Eating disorders are the most common chronic illnesses in the female adolescent population, with an incidence of up to 5%.
  • Men are more likely to be affected by binge eating disorder than any other type of eating disorder.
  • A study published in 2001 reported that 23% of adolescent females were dieting to lose weight
  • According to a 2002 survey, 28% of girls in grade nine and 29% in grade ten engaged in weight-loss behaviours.
Why are eating disorders prevalent in our youth?eating disorder awareness

Grade-nine students already see themselves as “too fat”.  According to a study, 37% of girls in grade nine and 40% in grade 10 perceived themselves as too fat.

Even those students who are normal in weight (based on their body mass index or BMI), 19% believed that they were too fat, and 12% of students reported attempting to lose weight.

Boys are not excluded from this disorder.  In a survey of adolescents in grades 7-12, 25% of boys reported being teased by their peers about their weight (girls 30%).

And it doesn’t stop at school.  Such teasing has been found to persist in the home as well – 29% of girls and 16% of boys reported having been teased by a family member about their weight.

Eating disorders and the Media:

Our girls are starting out way too early worrying about their weight.  What is to blame?

The link between eating disorders and the media is high on the list of factors.  Self-esteem becomes too closely tied to physical attributes and girls feel they can’t measure up to society standards.   My article on celebrities who suffer from eating disorders shows the prevalence of body image issues in Hollywood itself.

The media, including television, movies, videos, music, magazines and the internet all portray images of girls and women in a sexual manner, such as revealing clothing, body posture and facial expressions, as models of femininity for girls to emulate.  How can our young girls not be influenced if this is all they see?

What can you do?

Search for local treatment in your area.

Call or visit the website of a national organization, such as the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.    Womenshealth.gov offers some great resources as does the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Visit Girls Inc.

Visit Dove Self-Esteem 

Visit Teens Health 

Read a personal account by Sharon DeVellis

Read Part 1 on AMW here

Sources: http://www.nedic.ca/knowthefacts/statistics.shtml  and Wikipedia


Maria Lianos-Carbone is the author of “Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year”, and publisher of amotherworld.com, a leading lifestyle blog for women.


  1. fitvsfiction Reply

    People STILL don’t realize what an issue this is. As hard as it may be to believe,eating disorders are affecting kids younger and younger. Sadly, finding help can be incredibly difficult. From obcene waiting lists to outrageous prices, the first step is to admit the impact eating disorders are having on boys and girls, men and women of all ages, the next step is making help easier to get. For over 20 years I tried to get help for a severe eating disorder and was one of a very lucky few to find recovery..now I’m helping others adoid the pitfalls I couldn’t. Contact me at :www.fitvsfiction.com

    Thanks for bringing this up, Maria!

  2. I almost want to cry reading this post. I thought that maybe for once, not just anorexia and bullimia would be addressed. I suffered from anorexia as a teenager, and now I’m dealing with the exact opposite problem: complusive overeating. Don’t kid yourself: both are deadly, and both are about one thing, and one thing only: trying to have control over one aspect of your life when everything else seems out of ccntrol. If you think it’s hard to find treatment for anor. or bull., try finding treatment for overeating. You are treated like a pariah, like you’re too stupid to know what you have to do to lose weight. I know exactly what to do. I can’t do it. I’m honestly afraid for my health, and not even my family doctor will take me seriously.

    • Thanks C. for your comment. You’re absolutely right – compulsive overeating is a sure problem too with many of the same triggers. I’ll have to do some research and write a post on this in more detail – thank you. Please take care of yourself.


      Exactly where you are. I know what you’re going through, my friend. I battled anorexia for years and then went in the complete opposite direction, to the point where my husband had to put our baby gates back up (even though my kids didn’t need them anymore) But to hear ME if I snuck into the kitchen to make pancakes at 3am!

      You’re right..doctors didn’t take me seriously..it’s easy to get help if you’re 80lbs or 480lbs..but anywhere in between is ignored. I FOUND recovery and I’m doing everything I can to help other people through this heartwrenching experience.

      It IS possible to find your way back..be gentle with yourself..your worth as a person doesn’t change regardless of what the scale says.

      If you want to talk..write me at: marciwarhaft@rogers.com

      No shame, no judgement. I promise.

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