Facts and Figures

Our Culture's Obsession with Weight, Shape, and Appearance

Deirdra Price, Ph.D., author of Healing the Hungry Self: The Diet-Free Solution to Lifelong Weight Management,shares information on the prevalence of eating disorders and weight-control problems in America.

Americans are more concerned about their bodies than ever before--and heavier than they've ever been. With all the diet and exercise programs on the market, people should be getting thinner and healthier. But they're not! A record one-third are now considered obese. The average weight of women and men between the ages of 25 and 30 has increased by 10 pounds during the past seven years. Approximately 44 million people actively diet each year, yet 90 to 95 percent fail to keep off the weight and actually gain more weight back than they lost. Almost one in three women (31 percent) diet at least once a month. One woman out of six (16 percent) considers herself a perpetual dieter.

The obsession with weight, shape, and appearance pushes many people towards developing an eating disorder. Three eating disorders have been identified. Each are described below.

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa

Today, seven million women and one million men suffer from anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Almost nine in ten individuals with eating disorders (86 percent) report the onset of their illness occurring by age 20. Three in four (77 percent) report that the duration of their illness ranges from one to 15 years. There are four times as many bulimics as anorexics. Fifteen to twenty percent of anorexics die prematurely due to complications related to their illness.

There have been several theories about anorexia and bulimia being disorders of the young, well-educated, white, upper-middle-class. New research suggests that women and men of all ages, races, education, and occupational backgrounds are susceptible to developing both disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a syndrome in which an individual refuses to maintain body weight, weighing less than 85 percent of what is normal for age and height. The person severely restricts food intake to produce weight loss. Some individuals also binge and purge in addition to starving. There is also an intense fear of gaining weight, a feeling of being fat even though underweight, a denial of the seriousness of low body weight, and in women, an absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles. Physical problems associated with anorexia nervosa include damage to the heart and other vital organs, low blood pressure, slowed heartbeat, constipation, abdominal pain, loss of muscle mass, hair loss, sensitivity to the cold, and fine body hair growth.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a syndrome in which the person has recurrent episodes of binge eating, consumes a large amount of food in one sitting, and feels a lack of control over eating behavior during the binge. The person then purges by inducing vomiting; using laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise in order to prevent weight gain. Both behaviors need to occur at least twice a week for three months for the diagnosis to be made. The person feels a lack of control over eating behaviors during binges and has a preoccupation with weight, body shape, and appearance. Complications associated with bulimia nervosa include damage to the heart, kidneys, reproductive system, intestinal tract, esophagus, teeth, and mouth.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Binge-eating disorder is a syndrome in which an individual eats large amounts of food in a short period of time and feels a lack of control over eating during the binge. The person consumes food more rapidly than normal, eats until uncomfortably full, ingests large amounts even though not physically hungry, eats alone because of embarrassment, and feels disgusted, depressed, or guilty after the episode. Binge-eating can lead to weight gain and obesity. Physical complications associated with long-term weight problems include diabetes, hypertension, circulatory problems, degenerative joint disease, hormonal imbalances, and cardiovascular disease.

As many as one-fourth of the nation's young women periodically go on food binges during which they eat extremely large amounts of high-calorie foods in short periods of time. One in ten women (10 percent), whose age ranges between 19 and 39, reports indulging in eating binges more than once a month. One in six (16 percent) binge once a month or less, and one in sixteen (six percent) goes on a food binge at least once a week. To compensate for the weight gain of bingeing, almost half of the women mentioned above turn to extreme measures such as fasting, strenuous exercise, or self-induced vomiting.

More Young People Experience Concerns With Food and Weight

Girls are more concerned about their weight than are boys. However, that may be changing as boys feel similar pressures to be thin and muscular. Eight in ten 10-year-old girls (80 percent) claim to be on a diet. Seventy-seven percent of female adolescents wish to lose weight. Fifty-five percent of adolescent males wish to gain weight. The desire to change weight, size, and shape appears to be a concern for both females and males as they move into young adulthood. Fifty-three percent of 20-year-old women feel they are fat, as do nine percent of 20-year-old men. Eighty-four percent of adult women wish to weigh less. Over half the men surveyed (52 percent) also wish to weigh less.

Eating Disorders and Men

More men are experiencing eating disorders than ever before. Ten to 24 percent of male adolescents report bingeing, and one to two percent report engaging in vomiting, or use of laxatives or diuretics. A 1980's university study found that 79 percent of college females and 49 percent of college males engaged in "uncontrolled" excessive eating. In another study, 13 percent of the general college population reported experiencing all major symptoms of bulimia nervosa-87 percent were female and 13 percent were male.

Male athletes who are pushed to maintain low weight are especially susceptible to the development of eating disorders. A 1993 study of 131 lightweight college football players at Cornell University reported that 74 percent experienced binge eating. Seventeen percent engaged in self-induced vomiting, 66 percent fasted, and 87 percent used exercise as a method of weight control. Overall 42 percent engaged in "dysfunctional eating patterns" (bingeing and purging), with 10 percent having an eating disorder. Another study of 84 German university athletes (wrestlers and rowers) reported that 52 percent engaged in binge eating and 11 percent had a number of eating disorder symptoms.

Healing the hungry Self is specifically written to help people overcome food, weight, and body image issues.  So whether you have an eating disorder, are dieting incessantly and cannot lose weight, or are overly focused on your body and appearance, Healing the Hungry Self can provide assistance in developing a healthier relationship to food and a more positive self-attitude.