Three out of Four American Women Have Disordered Eating

Eating disorders are the most deadly of all mental illnesses. The shocking thing is more woman than ever are showing signs of them.

A common misconception about eating disorders is that eating disorders are limited to anorexia and bulimia. Peoples visual perceptions of eating disorders are also very misconceived believing that someone with anorexia and bulimia should physically appear gaunt and malnourished. To clarify, eating disorders range from anorexia, bulimia, diabulimia, pregorexia, exercise-bulimia and compulsive overeating. At times a person with an eating disorder can vacillate between all of these depending on their condition. In regards to weight, many eating disorder suffers do not look gaunt and slender. Depending on the persons body type, a person can be physically malnourished with their body ready to go into cardiac arrest and yet look healthy with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI.) These misconceptions explain why so many people are shocked to hear that three out of four women have eating disorders. Eating disorders are a mental illness and more often than not, can not be visually detected.


A study by ScienceDaily showed sixty-five percent of American women from 25 to 45 report having disordered eating behaviors, according to the results of a new survey by Self Magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.

An additional 10% of women report symptoms consistent with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating  disorder, meaning that a total of 75 percent
of American women surveyed endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food and/ or their bodies.

“Our survey found that these behaviors cut across racial and ethnic lines and are not limited to any one group,” said Cynthia R. Bulik, Ph.D., William and Jeanne Jordan Distinguished Professor of eating disorders in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry and director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program. “Women identified their ethnic backgrounds as Hispanic or Latina, white, black or African American and Asian were all represented among the women who reported disordered eating behaviors.”

“What we found most surprising was the unexpectedly high number of women who engage in unhealthy purging (bulimic) activities,” said Bulik, who is also a nutrition professor in the School of Public Health. “More than 31% of women in the survey reported that in an attempt to lose weight they had induced vomiting or had taken laxatives, diuretics or diet pills at some point in their life. Among these women, more than 50% engaged in purging
activities at least a few times a week and many did so every day.”

Although the type of disordered eating behaviors the survey uncovered didn’t necessarily have potentially lethal consequences of heart attacks like anorexia or bulimia nervosa, women report they are associated with emotional and physical distress. And despite the stereotype that eating issues affect mostly young women, the survey found that those in their 30s and 40s report disordered eating at virtually the same rates. Findings show that:

  • 75% of women report disordered eating or symptoms consistent with eating disorders; three out of four have an unhealthy relationship with food or their bodies
  • 67% of women are trying to lose weight
  • 53% of dieters are already at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight
  • 39% of women say concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness
  • 37% regularly skip meals to try to lose weight
  • 27% would be extremely upset if they gained just five pounds
  • 26% cut out entire food groups
  • 16% have dieted on 1,000 calories a day or fewer
  • 13% smoke to lose weight
  • 12% often eat when they’re not hungry; 49% sometimes do

Eating habits that women think are normal, such as banishing carbohydrates, skipping meals and in some cases extreme dieting, may actually be symptoms of disordered eating.

The online survey garnered responses from 4,023 women who answered detailed questions about their eating habits. Please take this information and share it with your friends. Let them know that their extreme dieting and obsession over their physical appearance can turn into a life threatening illness if their not careful.

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