General Information About Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are a serious set of illnesses that can affect people mentally and physically. While our society propagates many myths surrounding eating disorders, the diseases themselves do not discriminate: they affect tens of millions of Americans regardless of their gender or background. In the past, scientists have been unable to pin down any singular cause responsible for the development of eating disorders; they now largely agree that there are several genetic, biological, and environmental factors that could make some individuals more susceptible to developing eating disorders than others.
How Common are Eating Disorders?
The National Eating Disorders Association has compiled various helpful statistics surrounding eating disorders in one place. One study they cited found that subclinical eating disorder behaviors like laxative abuse, purging, fasting, and binge eating are almost as common in men as they are in women. Another study found that men make up about 25% of all people who are suffering from anorexia nervosa. Furthermore, men who have anorexia have a higher risk of mortality, partially because they are often diagnosed later due to societal stigma and biases.
Yet another study cited followed 496 adolescent girls from when they were twelve years old until they were twenty. At the study’s conclusion, the researchers found that 5.2% of all the girls studied met the DSM-5 criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. When they included nonspecific eating disorder symptoms in their evaluations, the researchers found that a total of 13.2% of the girls had dealt with an eating disorder (according to the DSM-5) by the time they turned 20.
Eating Disorders and the LGBTQIA+ Community
Eating disorders are, of course, also a serious issue among members of the LGBTQIA+ community. A study discussed by the National Eating Disorders Association concluded that, sadly, transgender individuals experience a significantly higher rate of eating disorders than their cisgender peers do. Another study found that 42% of men who suffer from eating disorders also identify as gay, suggesting a potential increase in eating disorder-like behaviors and disturbed body image in the gay community. Yet another study compared data between heterosexual individuals and individuals who did not identify as such; they found that rates of binge eating and purging were higher in those that identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or “mostly heterosexual.”
What to Do if You Notice Signs of an Eating Disorder
There are many different signs–physical, behavioral, or emotional–to look out for that may point to the existence of an eating disorder. If you notice these signs in yourself or a loved one, you can always opt to contact an eating disorder hotline. If you or your loved one is in a time of crisis, however, you can text “NEDA” to 741-741 to be connected with a trained volunteer. You may also want to look into treatment programs; there are several options around the United States. It is important to remember that everyone’s recovery journey is different; what may work well for some may not work for others.