A recurring column exploring various statistics related to sexual wellness, mental health, and substance use at Colorado College, brought to you in collaboration with the Wellness Resource Center.
National surveys estimate that this is the percentage of the U.S. population that will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
Most college students are familiar with eating disorders. We might have first been introduced to the term during elementary school health class, or else exposed to it via friends, relatives, or acquaintances throughout adolescence and adulthood. Many have experienced it firsthand.
Eating disorders have no single cause. Each illness is based on individual circumstances and spring out of factors that run the biological, psychological, and sociocultural gamut. However, regardless of the root, most eating disorders are accompanied by signs that render them visible, especially as they begin to interfere with an individual’s day-to-day routines, relationships, and work.
Unusual or obsessive preoccupation with body shape, size, and weight is the most common indicator. Such bodily fixation can manifest in practices that include cutting down on food quantity or major food groups, maintaining a rigid weight loss or exercise regime, or frequent red flag comments such as the need to “punish” oneself or “make up for” certain types or quantities of food. Eating large quantities over short periods, stashing or hiding food, and sudden fluctuations in weight are additional signs that may signal a struggle with bulimia.
Certain individuals have a higher risk for developing an eating disorder than others. Approximately three quarters of individuals who experience eating disorders are women. Female victims of sexual assault develop eating disorders at twice the rate of the average person. Athletes, though not assigned a specific number, are also at elevated risk. Additionally, those who diet moderately are five times more likely to develop a disorder, while those who extremely restrict food intake see that likelihood increase to 18 times the normal risk.
Unfortunately, access to support for people experiencing disorders also differs according to identity. Clinicians are more likely to diagnose white patients with an eating disorder than patients of color. This occurs despite the statistically similar rates of eating disorders across all races and ethnicities in the U.S. Fifty percent of individuals with an eating disorder also struggle with substance abuse, compounding both physical and mental symptoms.
An eating disorder is not about food. It is a complex medical and psychiatric illness that patients succumb to through genetic and environmental factors. If you notice a loved one struggling with any of the above signs, don’t ignore them. However, although we want those we care about to be healthy, mental and physical recovery is a process each individual must want for themselves; it is not something we can impose.
These statistics are drawn from the National Eating Disorder Association. For more information, visit their website at nationaleatingdisorders.org. If you are worried about yourself or a friend, schedule an appointment at the CC Counseling Center or stop by the Wellness Resource Center to discuss next steps if possible.