Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that can affect people from all walks of life. Two people with the same eating disorder may have very different symptoms and experiences. However, professionals have identified some characteristic eating disorder risk factors that may predict someone’s likelihood of developing disordered eating patterns. Read on to learn more about why some people get eating disorders, their prevalence and available treatment options.
Understanding Eating Disorder Risk Factors
You might be more likely to develop an eating disorder if you have a family history of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In some cases, having a close relative with mental health issues can form the foundation for you to share a similar struggle.
Some people end up with eating disorders because they are perfectionists, have body dysmorphia or hold themselves to unrealistically high standards. Due in part to media depictions, many young women and men also grow up with internalized fatphobia, or the belief that only people with a specific body image can be healthy and attractive. Low self-esteem is another hallmark of eating disorders.
How Prevalent Are Eating Disorders?
According to statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 30 million Americans, or 9% of the population, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Among mental illnesses, eating disorders are second only to opioid addiction and overdose in terms of mortality rate. Every year, more than 10,000 people die from complications related to an eating disorder.
People of color with eating disorders are significantly less likely than white people to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment, and might therefore struggle with their condition for longer periods. The LGBTQ+ community also faces unique challenges related to eating disorders. For example, transgender people experience significant gender dysphoria, which can cause them to restrict their diet to modify their bodies without taking hormone therapy.
Eating Disorder Treatment
Eating disorders are treatable with a combination of approaches. For example, a nutritionist might work with you to create a healthy, balanced diet plan you can follow, while a therapist can help you address the root causes of your eating disorder. Evidence-based treatment approaches for eating disorders might include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. All these treatments aim to help you identify maladaptive coping strategies so you can enjoy a better quality of life.
While the media have made progress in showing bodies of more shapes and sizes, there is still work to do to instill confidence and a positive self-image in young women and men in the formative stages.
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