In the News: Disordered Eating is Widespread among U.S. Women


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

A recent survey of women between the ages of 25 and 45 found that 75% eat, think and behave abnormally around food. These results weren't limited to a specific ethnic or racial group, applying to most women in general.

The study also found that 31% of these women had used vomiting, laxatives, diuretics or diet pills and some point in their lives to lose weight. Among these women, more than 50% did so at least a few times a week.

Here are some other interesting results from this study:

67% of the women were trying to lose weight.
53% of dieters are already at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight.
39% said concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness.
37% said they regularly skip meals to try to lose weight.

The results of this study are troubling, but not really surprising to me. I see people on our site every day who's happiness is determined by the number they see on the scale that day. I also see a lot of women who are trying to get to a certain weight, whether or not it's really healthy for them. I think our members do a good job of reaching out to each other and being supportive when someone's having a down day. I also think our members are good at trying to help each other be realistic about weight loss goals and trying to focus more on overall health. But women still face a lot of pressure from society- some that's put on them, some that they put on themselves- to look a certain way.

What is your reaction to the results of this study?

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  • 50
    I will admit that I have been one of these people my whole life. My weight has gone way up and way down. I'm fighting now to reach a happy, healthy medium. - 5/26/2010   8:13:45 AM
  • 49
    sounds about right. remember the difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder. while an eating disorder falls under the category of disordered eating, someone with disordered eating does not necessarily have an eating disorder. - 5/25/2009   6:53:56 PM
  • 48
    I would have like to have seen more on what kinds of women were studied and why. I looked but couldn't see any specific inclusions of women who were already overweight. It's frustrating. I"m a recovering anorexic (yes, at THIS weight) and couldn't get any help at all. I was told the only eating disorder someone who was fat could have was the inability to quit shoveling food into face and refuse dessert.

    It's not just a female issue either. I would have liked to have seen some study on males because it's a big problem among them too. My husband is healthy and so are his co-workers but they're all worrying about weight and dieting. At least one of them uses laxatives and other methods to do so and they all want to drop at least fifty pounds when they don't have to. - 5/24/2009   12:49:49 AM
    I'm not surprized by this study at all either. I thought that the percentage of people on a diet would be higher. How was that broken down ? Who was surveyed ? What I'd like to know is if that number changes between men and women.

    It seems like everyone woman I know is trying to lose. Men are different. Yes, I know some trying to lose, but many seem contented with their body even if they are overweight. They don't see themselves as overweight.

    Is this a cultural thing ? Women are more concerned about their weight than men. Because of that women probably do have more eating disorders or disordered eating patterns.

    What are you going to do with a society that keeps saying,"thin is in"

    - 4/2/2009   2:35:38 PM

    I ask myself this sometimes: "How do you want to determine your value? By other's remarks or by what you think when you look in the mirror? Or, how about what you do each day? Your ideas, your creativity? Your kindness to others?"

    I ask myself of this every time I need to because there are so many messages everywhere. - 3/28/2009   12:56:48 AM
    Why is an article condemning this kind of disordered eating accompanied by a picture of an idealized model? That kind of pervasive image is a major part of the problem, but what's worse is that we have stopped seeing the pictures as anything unusual. Did anyone else notice this? - 3/5/2009   9:29:11 AM
  • 44
    Call me crazy, but if "75% eat, think and behave abnormally around food," isn't it NORMAL? The abnormal folks would be the minority - the 25% - who behave "normally," whatever that is.

    It's normal for human beings to get as many calories as they can -- it's in our genes. The ones who survived and had offspring were the "successful" ones at getting calories. - 2/3/2009   10:46:39 AM
    It's a sad reality, but I wasn't really surprised when I read this. It's something I see all too often especially in my line of work. - 2/2/2009   10:44:24 PM
  • 42
    This article makes me feel sad. I haven't tried any of the mentioned diet methods, but I am a "recovering" binge eater. I was once 400 pounds, so I know how society views the obese. I think that it is more scary for me to be close to Maintenance than it was for me to be obese, because I'm not sure what my weight SHOULD be. I realize, too, that I have only government charts and doctor's suggestions to go on what my weight should be. Should I trust someone other than myself to decide what my weight should be? I don't think so, but it is so ingrained in us...from adolescence to be thin (which is, I agree, NOT synonymous with "healthy!"). The standard out there for us is impossible to maintain. My husband was reading an article to me out of "Wired" magazine last night: in 1940, the BMI of the average woman was 22, and of a Playboy Bunny was 18.1. In 2002, the BMI of the average woman had increased to 26.1; the Playboy Bunny DECREASED to 17.6. We're being compared to a Playboy Bunny???? Is this realistic??? I don't think so. - 1/19/2009   1:34:18 PM
    Yes this is so true! I lost 50 pounds, exceeeded my goal. Yet I still feel fat. It really is all in our heads! I changed my diet. Now I need to change my thinking. - 1/17/2009   2:48:50 AM
  • 40
    I am definitely a part of that percentage, having been hospitalized and tube-fed at 19. I was terrified of it, and what it did to me, and I wish more young girls and women (and men too, after all, they also suffer) could see what has happened to me as a result of it... - 10/21/2008   11:21:55 AM
    i've tried dexatrim and all it did was make me really hungry so i quit taking them. - 10/19/2008   11:50:22 AM
    People love to be thin. They will try anything to get that way. Sparkpeople does alot tp help prevent bad eating habits. - 10/13/2008   10:02:52 AM
  • 37
    I havent ever tried a diet pill before, I was afriad of feeling dizzy or something...although I almost tried the Alli, but was again afraid I might have an "oops" as they refer to them. Thats another reason I didnt try the laxatives or durilicts. I have thought about trying to throw up, but my gag reflex was never strong enough. Never was a ble to not even once. Lucky me...neways. Seeing the scale on the high end, doesnt ruin my whole day but it also doesn't make me wanna go out and grab that candy bar either. I think more than anything for me, I just deny myself things more often than I need to. And sometimes (not often but still happens every now and then) if I eat something not healthy I feel guilty about it and beat myself up until I kinda gorge myself on it and grr!!! to the weak gag reflex cuz I cant take it back, (or undo it) so I just feel horrible for the rest of that day. Then the next day I am back to my normal can do self. So I don't know. I guess I am as food disordered as the rest of But I am trying, and using the tools here on sparkpeople and it really is helping me learn how to eat right, and how to not deprive myself to the point where I feel I need to sneak things that cause the guilt cycles. - 9/29/2008   11:54:31 AM
    This matches pretty accurately with the amount of obese and overweight americans. I myself and pretty obese, probably morbidly so, but I have to say, though seeing the number high will depress me for a solid 30 minutes, it does not by any means ruin my whole day. - 9/27/2008   4:29:49 PM
  • SYLVIE_22
    At some point in my life i have fit into every one of those percentages listed- except for the vomiting and diuretics one...tho i have used diet pills before. I have always been weird about foods and stuff. Even when i started dating my bf i was like 145lbs and i would not eat a lot when i was around him because i thought he'd be grossed out that a fat cow like me was eating all that. Now i wish i was at 145 again!! I just think it's funny how our perception of our own bodies is sometimes so warped...i've been told by people at the gym that i look wonderful and don't need to lose any weight, but in my head i'm thinking you have got to be kidding me. I guess i just need to stop comparing myself to other people. - 9/27/2008   12:57:53 PM
  • *DEVA*
    i'm still unlearning what i've been taught is beautiful. it's a long process, but well worth it. makes me feel better and better each day. - 9/23/2008   8:26:05 AM
  • 33
    I blame the media, the government and large corporations. The media for the anorexic-chic glamorization, and the latter two for the incessant greed and pollution-producing practices that daily threaten the life of our already damaged ecosystem (and in turn, our bodies). The inexpensive, mass produced, nutrient-poor and chemical laden foods, which have become the norm, make it very difficult for the average consumer to win the health battle without a fight. - 9/20/2008   5:50:23 AM
    Definitions of abnormal as in eating too much or too little? Too fat or too thin? We need to establish a balance- I feel that todays econonmy will produce more of both- over weight & under weight. Some forced to eat junk food or at least nutritional poorer choices. Due to price increases on everyday necessities. Others are doing without meals, to feed the rest of the family or simply cannot afford the food at all. - 9/14/2008   4:45:20 PM
  • 31
    I believe it. Looking back at college, I realized that I had majorly disordered eating and suffered from something damn near exercise bulimia (I was never diagnosed--it didn't exist then... WAY BACK in 2000...). I felt I was a pretty normal young woman. So I'm sure I wasn't alone. - 9/14/2008   4:09:12 PM
    If this issue is as large of a problem that is being suggested here I would like to see more doctors and society helping us with it rather than displaying photos and lives of super thin models and movie stars. - 9/12/2008   2:01:13 PM
  • 29
    I'm not clear on what "abnormal" food behaviors are, other than the obvious binge and purge habits.

    Evidently, any unusual eating pattern to lose weight is abnormal, but so is, I would think, eating more than your body really needs (which is how I got fatter).

    Who eats normally? My vegan friend is a nice weight, and follows a very healthy diet, but the extremes she goes through to get all the nutrients she needs, not to mention the complicated recipes, are beyond what I would do. Is she normal?

    My parents eat very normally, I think, but Mom is always a little overweight. Is she normal?

    - 9/10/2008   5:13:15 PM
  • 28
    I've been overweight for quite awhile now. I think I am my worst enemy when it comes to my weight. I have the low self esteem about it. I really haven't had any problems with being treated differently. I agree with the article. I've done the not eating, and the diet pills before. - 9/9/2008   8:53:31 AM
  • 27
    If 75% of us behave this way, I'm not sure it can really be labeled abnormal, but I do understand what the results are saying. - 9/8/2008   3:28:37 PM
  • 26
    I don't get on the scale anynore because I might depressed by the number on the scale also . I have to go by how I feel and what I can do for me even for 30 minutes a day .And eat only when I am hungry and good stuff ..
    I was an athlete when I was young and I never worried about my weight all my life .
    I joined SP because I started to look kind of fat and tired after 40years old and now I am trying to stay look my best everyday because as you get older must maintain you know... I feel bad for young women today they are so confined and poisoned with lookes that not real and struggle for it .All young women are cute and beautiful and should be happy / They have beautiful skin and youth if they can only realize and knew how we all get really bad as we age so enjoy while they can . - 9/7/2008   3:37:51 PM
    That's not surprizing. This society is good at warping minds when it comes to body image. Healthy just isn't thin enough. - 9/6/2008   1:03:49 AM
  • 24
    The results aren't very surprising for me, either. I do wonder if these numbers are higher or lower than the results for teen girls. I work with teens and tweens and I've met many low self-esteems. It is a struggle to raise them higher, but with time and patience and commitment, it is possible to help these girls before it gets worse. - 9/4/2008   1:59:35 PM
  • 23
    This does not come as a suprise. In the past when i was looking for a quick fix, i skipped meals with the hopes of losing weight too.

    Although i am happy with my efforts and progress thus far, i am not sure that i will ever be happy with my weight/size. sometimes It seems like i am reaching for the unattainable goal. - 9/4/2008   12:36:27 PM
  • 22
    My reaction to the study? DUH!!! Of course women are preoccupied with their weight. Men are known by the work they do. Women are known by how attractive they are. I will have my PhD in 3 years, but if I'm still at this weight, I will still be disappointed in myself. And I don't think I'm the only one that thinks this way either. - 9/4/2008   7:25:46 AM
    I have been overweight pretty much my entire life. I found the motivation a few years ago and lost over 100 lbs. People treated me so differently when I was thinner. Now I have had some relapse into the world of obesity and people again treat me differently. I also, have been on every 'diet" in the world. It is sad that I equate my self-worth with my size. While I know that there are many great things about me, size is the one that I think about more than any other. When I lost the 111 lbs, even then, there was a "GOAL" that I was supposed to get to and the inability to attain that magic number and be considered "normal" made me miserable enough to just give up hence, gaining a lot of the weight back. I am trying so hard to not do that this time. It is so so so about having good health in my later years than it is about a number. - 8/22/2008   11:53:54 AM
    Unfortunately, there is nothing surprising about that... Sometimes it feels like the whole society is built on looks and appearance. There are these studies that show that overweight women get less paid than skinny women, they are thought to be less talented, lazy and more stupid - with general conceptions as such, how could women not worry about their weight? - 8/22/2008   2:29:17 AM
  • 19
    When I was in High School I was one of those girls that wanted to be skinny. i was incredibly healthy and fit but I wasn't skinny. I actually considered becoming bulemic......I know it sounds crazy....but I was pressured to that point. It saddens me that I will deal with this issue of my weight for the rest of my life. My goal is to make the right choices now so that my daughter never feels the same way I do! - 8/21/2008   2:23:15 AM
    I think that disordered eating among women is probably higher than what is indicated in the study. I attended a prestigous women's college in California and many of my fellow students had eating serious eating disorders. It was hard not to get caught up in some of it. I think many of the issues associated with eating disorders arise from a percieved lack of control. A lot of the young women I knew used food to re-establish a sense of control over their hectic, double-booked, non-stop lives.
    While the study seems to focus more on anorexic and bulimic tendencies while ignoring binge-eating. As a nation, we should face the fact that we have an unhealthy relationship with food that is not limited to starvation. - 8/20/2008   2:39:41 PM
  • 17
    I will admit or confessed; that I am one of those 37% who regularly skip meals. So, that's probably something that I need to work on by not skipping meals. Please take care! Lisa - 8/20/2008   11:05:36 AM
  • 16
    Well....with government standards for what is overweight and obese - BMI index - who can blame us for it. These standards do not take into consideration the frame of a women's body, and I'll tell ya, depresses the heck out of me. I am supposed to be between 119 and 153 to be considered 119 I would be hospitalized ! - 8/20/2008   8:43:02 AM
  • 15
    I am not surprised at the study at all. I have struggled with my weight my entire life and have tried most of the things in the study. As a teenager my younger sister was anorexic and I was actually jealous because she could not eat and was so thin. My husband wants a thin wife, which I will never be so I think about it alot. Spark People has helped me, I feel better but would still like to be thinner. - 8/19/2008   9:23:16 PM
  • 14
    I am, at this moment, happy with my weight. When I step on the scale, I don't cringe. To me, weighing less than 130 is good. To my DH, I need to lose 10-18 more pounds so yes...I'm at a healthy weight but still dieting. If he grabs my waist or thigh and feels he can pinch something, that's weight he thinks I need to lose. If I were a single girl again, I'd be quite happy where I am right now. - 8/19/2008   5:46:43 AM
  • 13
    I'm not surprised either with these statistics. I try very hard not to get pulled into thinking that way. Society does put so much pressure on men and women alike. - 8/19/2008   4:49:07 AM
  • 12
    Unfortunately, I'm not surprised at the results of the study. Too many people, women more than men, value themselves based on their weigth and appearance instead of what's inside. - 8/19/2008   2:20:22 AM
  • 11
    I am not surprised, the front page of people goes to show you why women are like this. No matter how skinny we look, we will want to be skinnier. Today I got into a fight with my sister about that, she was like no one would go out with you your to fat, but look at me, they would go out with me, because I am skinny. I was that isn't what dating is about, and it shouldn't be. - 8/18/2008   11:27:45 PM
  • 10
    I'm not surprised by the statistics @ all. In fact around the age of 15 I began to experiment w/ bulimia. I say experiment because I wasn't technically a bulimic. I was actually a compulsive over eater that happened to purge after binging. And the ironic thing about it is I learned about bulimia in my HS health class.

    I also experimented with laxatives, diuretics & compulsive exercising. I attribute all of my former bad habits to my lack of metabolism & my inability to successfully keep weight off. UGH!! - 8/18/2008   10:59:57 PM
  • 9
    here are stars without make-up ! They look just the same as everyone else!

    We really need to stop thinking we all have to be a size 0-2 ... it is not healthy at all! Did you know that it is a good idea to keep a little meat on your bones so if you get really sick, you have a better chance of recovering? Your body needs those stores for emergencies. - 8/18/2008   10:52:42 PM
  • 8
    I am not surprised either women are under tremendous pressure to be perfect, and it is only getting worse over time. Once you get the images that we are bombarded with in your head and that is not what you see in your mirror it puts many women on this relentless effort to seek this elusive goal to look like people in the media who themselves don't look like that without photo magic, airbrushing, make-up artist, personal trainers and cooks. The human psyche is a mysterious thing. - 8/18/2008   9:15:59 PM
  • ***LISA***
    I am not surprised at any of this. I work in an office with three other women and we are always dieting and sometimes even competing. I also work at a daycare with two other women. They too are trying to lose weight. One of those women has 3 highschool/college girls and they have all commented about being fat recently or have passed up food due to what size they are. Worst part, THEY ARE TINY!! But in referencing the Jennifer Love Hewitt article, this is what we see every day. What does the media expect to happen? I just wish I had esteem to look past it all and love myself any way, but right now, I just don't. - 8/18/2008   2:29:02 PM
    As a person who has struggled with this my entire adult life, I can absolutely believe how many women are eating disordered. I'm not sure there's a simple solution to it. It's such a personal thing for each woman. It's not as simple as "I need to look good," or "My sister fits into that dress, I need to, too." It's not even about control, like so many websites say it is. I'll be 50 years old in October, and I'm finally to the point that I can have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. - 8/18/2008   2:15:21 PM
  • 5
    Unfortunately I will admit to being one of those women that did most of those things to try and lose weight. I was that desperate. It wasn't until I joined spark that I truly realized just how much I had been doing wrong when trying to lose weight. Now I'm down 25 pounds and have a lot more to lose, but I know it's going to come off and my chances of keeping it off are higher because of knowing the correct way of taking it off. No more yo-yo dieting and fad diets for me! - 8/17/2008   1:50:01 PM
    I really appreciate the emphasis SparkPeople puts on losing weight slowly, learning to track nutritional intake, and adding both strength training and cardio fitness to our overall weight loss plan by starting small. I've spent the 4 months I've been on the plan trying to define the boundaries of what is reasonable for me. And when I tried for an unreasonable goal, I was able to stabalize my cardio back at reasonable without totally losing my motivation. - 8/17/2008   11:07:57 AM
  • 3
    I am not surprised that the majority of women in America have unhealthy attitudes toward food. It seems as if the didtinction between the media and reality is becoming ever more blurred, and women are shown an almost unattainable ideal everywhere they look. At the same time, they are told to "supersize it" in other messages, and a healthy balance in their lives is the real loser. Meanwhile, more and more of us become overweight. What a mess!

    It took Sparkpeople to teach me to live a healthy lifestyle, and let the scale take care of itself, which it is doing, all in its due time. - 8/16/2008   8:14:20 PM
  • 2
    I think it's unfortunate,but true that a lot of us really do need to lose weight. I think it's OK for some women who are at a "healthy" weight to want to lose more. If they are at the top of the healthy range and would feel more comfortable a little lower in the range that may be a good thing for them.

    I do think that sometimes we are too influenced by the media and other societal pressures.

    To me the most disturbing thing revealed by the study is that women use vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, diet pills and meal skipping to lose weight. That's not healthy. - 8/16/2008   4:01:27 PM
  • 1
    I don't think I knew a thing about eating right until sparkpeople taught me. I would eat healthy foods but also junk at will. Now I will have a special treat for a special occasion but have cut out the junk other than that. I also pick the more nutritious foods. I don't think it is about starving ourselves but about making better choices. I also think my body will eventually tell me when I'm at the right weight and how much I can lose and when. Sure I want to see the scale fall faster but more than that I want to be healthy. - 8/16/2008   12:57:22 PM

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