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7 Things You Need to Know About Eating Disorders

“When researchers followed a group of 496 adolescent girls for 8 years, until they were 20, they found a total of 13.2% of the girls had suffered from a DSM-5 eating disorder by age 20,” according to research published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

In the United States, eating disorders affect up to 30 million people across age and gender, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. And the number keeps growing. That’s why it’s important to understand what eating disorders are, how to recognize the warning signs and symptoms and what you can do to help as a certified Mental Health First Aider.

Here are 7 things you need to know about eating disorders.

  1. What are eating disorders?
    Eating disorders occur when a person distorted thoughts and emotions relating to body image that lead to marked changes in eating or exercise behaviors that interfere with their life.
  2. What are common types of eating disorders?
    Health professionals recognize three different types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS), such as binge eating disorders. All eating disorders have different warning signs that often depend on the person. Learn more about these common types of eating disorders in this blog post.
  3. What causes eating disorders?
    Like other mental disorders, there is no single cause for eating disorders. A range of biological, psychological and social factors may contribute. Most eating disorders occur when a person has distorted thoughts and emotions relating to body image.
  4. Who are eating disorders most likely to affected?
    Eating disorders affect all ages, genders, races and cultures. They are two to three times more common in females than in males. The median age of onset for eating disorders ranges from 18 to 20 years old (half of people have onset before these ages).
  5. What are the risks and side-effects of eating disorders?
    A person with an eating disorder can experience a wide range of physical and psychological health problems. Many people with eating disorders also have another mental disorder, particularly anxiety, mood or substance use disorders. Serious physical health consequences can include severe malnutrition, brain dysfunction and heart or kidney failure. Unfortunately, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  6. Where can you go for help?
    The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals and families affected by eating disorders. You can call their confidential hotline at 800-931-2237 or chat with a trained volunteer online at for information and support.
  7. What can you do to help others?
    Get trained in Mental Health First Aid. You will learn the risk factors and warning signs for eating disorders and other mental disorders and addictions, strategies for how to help someone in crisis and non-crisis situations and where to turn for help.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, call 911.

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