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What is an eating disorder?

Who is affected by eating disorders?

Eating disorders can affect people of any age, race, gender or sexual orientation. They are often diagnosed in teenagers and young adults, but many people are first diagnosed with an eating disorder in later adulthood. Sometimes the first signs and symptoms develop at a much younger age.

“I am currently 25 years old and I have had issues with my weight and my self-esteem since junior high. I was your typical, awkward preteen. Chubby, braces, glasses, acne and a sweet, yet painfully shy, personality. I was self-conscious about everything, including my weight.” ~Sara

Many changes occur in our bodies during adolescence. These changes can be very difficult for some youth. Sometimes, those who are dissatisfied with their bodies will turn to disordered eating. However, there are many risk factors for eating disorders, and not everyone who is unhappy with their body will develop an eating disorder.

Most eating disorders are much more common in women and girls than in men and boys. Girls in their teens are most likely to develop an eating disorder, but boys and men are also affected. In fact, one in every four children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa is a boy. Bulimia nervosa is diagnosed more often in females, but similar numbers of males and females are diagnosed with binge-eating disorder. Males also have some specific risk factors, including:

  • being overweight or obese as a child
  • dieting
  • taking part in sports that focus on being lean or muscular (i.e., runners, jockeys, wrestlers, body builders)
  • a job that requires them to look a certain way (actor, model, dancer)

People usually think of eating disorders as a “female” problem, and so, sadly, men and boys may be less likely to be diagnosed. They have many of the same signs and symptoms, and, like girls and women, they may have a distorted body image.

Men and boys might be more reluctant to talk about their symptoms. They may be less likely to admit they have a problem. They are often afraid that others will see them as less masculine. They may worry that others will think they are homosexual because of the untrue stereotypes about eating disorders. These fears may make it harder for some boys and men to get the help they need.

The information we get about eating disorders from television, magazines or our friends is often not true. For example, many people believe that only teenage girls and women have eating disorders. Others wrongly think disordered eating is a choice rather than an illness.

Resource List

  • Understanding Eating Disorder Statistics ( English )
  • Males and Eating Disorders ( English )
  • Eating Disorders: Beyond the Myths ( English )
Types Of Disorders: How do I know if I have an eating disorder?

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