Women's Health Project

Women and Eating Disorders

Statistics:

  • 5-10 million women and girls suffer from anorexia and/or bulimia, in the United States alone.

  • Approximately one million men and boys suffer from anorexia and/or bulimia, in the United States alone.

  • 25 million people suffer from compulsive overeating, in the United States alone.

  • Eighty-six percent of people with eating disorders report the onset of the illness by the time they reach the age of 20 (by no means is an eating disorder "less severe" when the eating-disordered person is above the age of 20).

  • The death rate for eating disorders is approximately 20 percent.

  • An estimated 85-95% of people with anorexia nervosa and bulimia and 65% of people with binge eating disorders are female.

  • Approximately 80% of women want to lose weight.

    Definitions:

    Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by
    (a) the refusal to maintain body weight of at least 85% of normal expected weight;
    (b) intense fear of weight gain;
    (c) distorted body perception;
    and (d) amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle).
    Many anorexics deny having a problem; however, some do recognize their eating disordered behavior, but do not know what to do to fix it.

    Bulimia Nervosa is defined as
    (a) recurrent episodes of binge eating experienced as out of control;
    (b) regular purging, fasting, or excessive exercise to prevent weight gain;
    (c) at least two episodes of binging and purging per week for at least three months; and
    (d) persistent over-concern with weight and shape.

    Binge-eating disorder is characterized by uncontrollable binge eating without compensatory behaviors.

    Complications from eating disorders:

    Complications from starvation and severe dieting:

  • Amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle)

  • Osteoporosis

  • Electrolyte imbalances, which lead to fatigue, diminished reflexes, kidney damage, cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, death

  • Cognitive impairment (i.e. clouded or distorted perception or thinking, difficulty concentrating, difficulty comprehending)

  • Dangerously low heartbeat and blood pressure

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Sustained starvation can even lead to death

    Complications from purging methods:

  • Vomiting: electrolyte imbalance that can lead to cardiac arrest and death; abdominal cramping; anemia; dehydration; headaches; tooth decay; tears in esophagus; chronic sore throat; difficulty swallowing

  • Diuretic Abuse: electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, muscle weakness or cramping, headaches, fatigue

  • Laxative Abuse: electrolyte imbalance, constipation, dehydration, muscle weakness or cramping, headaches, fatigue

    Complications from compulsive overeating:

  • Diabetes

  • Hypertension

  • Cardiac problems

    Sources:

    • "Facts About Eating Disorders," National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
    • "Eating Disorders: Facts About Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions," National Institute of Mental Health, 2001
    • "Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa," Margaret McKenna, MD, Textbook of Inpatient Psychiatry
    • "Eating Disorders in Men," Roberto Olivardia, BA, and Harrison G. Pope, Jr. MD, Directions in Psychiatry - Vol. 17, Special Report.
    • "Inside the Dazzling and Deadly World of Supermodels: Bad & Beautiful," Ian Halperin, New York: Citadel Press, 2001.
    • "Statistics: Eating Disorders and their Precursors," National Eating Disorders Association

    Special thanks to Caroline Gaudiani, a 2002 NOW summer intern, for access to her information on eating disorders, and to ECHO, a Harvard University peer counseling organization dedicated to helping people get through eating disorders.