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Most Women Have Disordered Eating

Surprising Findings on Women's Eating Behaviors

According to the results of a new survey by Self Magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the majority of American women have troubling relationships with food. According to a detailed survey of over 4,000 women, 65 percent of respondents between the ages of 25 and 45 report having disordered eating behaviors. Here are highlights from the interesting findings:

  • 75 percent of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders
  • 67 percent of women (excluding those with actual eating disorders) are trying to lose weight
  • 53 percent of dieters are already at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight

There are more interesting stats so


  • 39 percent of women say concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness
  • 37 percent regularly skip meals to try to lose weight
  • 27 percent would be “extremely upset” if they gained just five pounds
  • 26 percent cut out entire food groups
  • 16 percent have dieted on 1,000 calories a day or fewer
  • 13 percent smoke to lose weight
  • 12 percent often eat when they’re not hungry; 49 percent sometimes do

Some of these statistics surprise me while others seem about right. In the end I am saddened by these findings. As women we are brought through the wringer when it comes to body image and eating that it's hard to just be content with who you are. What about you guys? How do you feel about any of the above findings? Do they seem extreme or right on track?


Join The Conversation
missbooty missbooty 9 years
Yeah I'm not surprised at all...
porkypocky porkypocky 9 years
that's depressing to hear, but i can see it happening. i think the problem is that nobody's really educated about how weight loss is supposed to work, like how they expect to have a celebrity-fit butt and arms but don't want to do resistance training for fear of "bulking up." i am guilty of skipping meals and trying to do the 1000 calorie a day thing, but thankfully it didn't work. i got too hungry :D i think i love food way too much to completely restrict myself from things. it's all about moderation, so i can enjoy my chili fries! (well...maybe half a portion.)
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Guilty as charged.
Spectra Spectra 9 years
Some of those stats are pretty eye-opening. I think the demographic is a little skewed though...when I was in college, a LOT of girls I knew had very disordered eating patterns. I knew a lot of girls who would binge after nights of drinking and then purge together in the bathroom. Or women who would seriously not eat for days when they were working on a big paper because they were too "stressed" to eat. Not to mention the number of women I knew that took drugs to lose weight (Adderall, dexedrine, methamphetamine, cocaine, various energy pills, etc.). In college, I lost 90 lbs to get healthier, but I didn't do it in an extreme way. I can sort of understand the fact that 53% of people who are already at a healthy weight wanting to lose more because even when I reached a medically healthy weight, I still wanted to lose a good 5-10 more pounds to look thinner.
Francoisehardly Francoisehardly 9 years
I'm currently losing weight to be a healthier weight. If someone confused that with being over obsessed with my weight, I'd be pissed, especially since I've never had any disorder and I would never go on a ridiculous unhealthy diets and there's no reason to think so. And I have diabetes and high cholestrol in my family so I'm not interested in having excess weight. I wouldn't freak out about 5 extra pounds though as long as that doesn't snowball into even more excess weight. I kind of find it annoying though that people think a female is weird if she watches what she eats when she goes out. I enjoy what I eat while watching how much I eat because I only need enough to feel full, not stuffed and maybe I'm actually better off not pigging out and eating like a guy so I don't end up with unnecessary weight that I don't need.
Ryot Ryot 9 years
Thanks Tagmunkee, helps to know I'm not alone in that. :)
tagmunkee tagmunkee 9 years
Ryot, I have been in your shoes. In college I was diagnosed with an illness that at its worst had me bed-ridden and at its best had me depressed and full of muscle aches (among other unsavory symptoms). For three years I was on a modified diet that sounds like the one you are on. The big difference was that I was a recovering bulimic. So you can imagine how my friends and family reacted. Some even accused me of having "faked" the illness (after watching me debilitate for a year) in order to start a new eating disorder. That's to say nothing about all the times I've been hotly questioned (usually by other women, as men largely could care less about someone eats or doesn't eat) about my reasons for avoiding certain foods. It did not help my preexisting issues with food. However, it did make me a stronger person, and it helped me to focus on health over weight. For the past four years I have been able to eat the forbidden foods, in moderation. And I have to say that the freedom to do this has helped me out greatly in work situations. Turning down ice cream cake at an office party causes more outrage than arguing in favor of genocide (which I don't, for the record.) It's a sickening reality. On the upside, I think you will find that your own charitableness towards others might set an example. I try to never quiz people on their eating habits, even (and perhaps especially) if I suspect they are unhealthy. Women spend too much time obsessing over these thing, the last thing we need to do is increase the amount of "policing." Good luck, Ryot. It's really not easy being on a special diet when people cannot "see" the reason.
Colleeninator Colleeninator 9 years
I have to say I'm surprised by the 75% also, but none of the others. I think they're using a broader definition of "eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders" than I (and probably most women) normally do, though I wouldn't necessarily argue with them saying that such-and-such is NOT an eating disorder. I am happy to say I am not included in any of those numbers except for the "27 percent [that] would be “extremely upset” if they gained just five pounds". I've always had a constant, healthy weight, and I take very good care of myself. However, more than vanity, if I gained five pounds, I would be worried I developed some kind of unhealthy condition, or something along those lines. My policy on food is simple: I only eat when I want to eat, and I THINK about what I'm eating before I eat it. I don't rule out any foods, nor do I always pass on unhealthy foods, but I gauge what I'm about to eat against what I've eaten recently. If I ate a pint of ice cream yesterday, I probably shouldn't be eating cake (or more ice cream) today.
mem952 mem952 9 years
i think throwing statistics out there like this is dangerous and sensationalizes the issues. i notice that this was a survey done by SELF magazine - a magazine often read by women who are trying to lose weight or at least concerned with their weight. "unfiltered reality"?? it might explain the high figures. i think raising awareness of eating disorders is great but i also feel like the issue of women's body image and women's attitudes to food could do with less sensationalizing. anorexia is a mental disorder. just because a woman might have bad body image doesn't mean she has a mental disorder. this study and article confuses the two issues to make an eye-catching headline.
nancita nancita 9 years
The fact that so many women have eaten fewer than 1,000 calories a day is just horrifying to me.
sayjay23 sayjay23 9 years
I am not at all surprised about these findings, as a college seniorI have found that most of my friends have "tried to have" or have had an eating disorder as some point in their lives and weight is a constant issue with most girls today. I know I personally have struggled with weight issues after gaining the freshman 15 and tried to lose weight the unhealthy way. Society today brings girls to such statistics and its sickening.
melizzle melizzle 9 years
lemuse, I like to think some of it is jealously. :) It's a shame that being healthy has turned into something so suspicious...
lemuse20 lemuse20 9 years
I would never ever skip a meal to lose weight, that just messes with your metabolism. melizzle, I've been going through the same thing lately! Now that I've lost weight and am not quite the chubby person they knew as me, they're asking way too many questions and I in no way look anorexic or anything like that. I'm just irritated because I'm finally starting to feel good about myself and they're making me feel like it's a crime.
liquidrats liquidrats 9 years
Regarding which disorders, when they said some women cut out entire categories of food, that made me wonder if vegetarians/vegans were included in that. It bugs me when people won't eat any dessert to avoid weight gain, I frequently find myself eating more than I'd like in groups to prove it's "okay."
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
So basically disordered eating is the norm. Americans are suffering from being overweight, and this survey is telling us to worry about counting calories...okay who really cares. I eat whatever I want and I cannot imagine being embarrassed dining out with my friends, how weird! I didn't even know some women felt that way.
stargazer25 stargazer25 9 years
I kind of curious as to how the survey was administered. Via phone? One on One interviews? Etc.
Ryot Ryot 9 years
Interesting study, but I have to wonder how much even stats like this contribute to the issues women have with their bodies. This is just another "should" to add to the list -- you should be thin, you shouldn't eat that, you should exercise, you shouldn't have issues with food. What ever happened to live and let live? I'm coming at this from a weird direction: I've never been outside a healthy weight range, and other than serious issues with my chest size, I've never had body issues, and I've never had food issues. Until recently, I've always ate what I wanted when I wanted no matter who was watching, maybe partially because I've always hung out with guys, not girls. But in the last few years, I've developed a chronic illness that had me nearly bedridden last year. Last fall I was put on a strict diet that has sent my illness into remission, and allowed me to start working again. The diet itself is healthy, mostly fruits and veggies, while avoiding all sugar, most flour, and everything processed or packaged. That along with being able to exercise again -- hell, being able to walk up a flight of stairs again, which I couldn't do a year ago -- has led me to lose a few pounds as well. The weirdness comes in with my new office mates. I feel weird when I say "I can't eat that", or even just "no thanks" to food. I've never been the girl to turn down cake or cookies or pizza or fries. I'm not doing it now because I'm trying to lose weight, but because if I eat sugar or flour or whatever, my illness will come back with a vengeance, and I won't be able to work. My coworkers give me funny looks, the looks of "you shouldn't be obsessed with your weight, you're thin enough" and "oh, you're one of *those* girls." I've finally told most of the people I work with that the "diet" isn't to lose weight, it's to keep me in remission. But shouldn't it be enough that I'm doing what's necessary to stay healthy? Why should anyone second guess my choices? And I wonder if the people conducting this study would have thought I have "disordered eating" since I restrict certain types of food? Makes me wonder what else they don't have the full picture on.
melizzle melizzle 9 years
I also want to know what types of behaviors qualify as disordered eating... I know the crisis women have with body image is widespread, so much so that even attempts at being healthy can be construed as something extreme. For example, I'm received a lot of negative comments from family members lately because I've lost weight- "You're too thin!" "You're wasting away!" "Are you throwing up?" Rude and insensitive I know, but I understand their concern- I've been carrying an extra 15 pounds or so for several years now, so to see me actually slim down is surprising. It's funny, though, how I'm immediately accused of an eating disorder when all I do is eat well and exercise.
gabiushka gabiushka 9 years
I can see that too, media has done a great job influencing women.
Purplerainangel Purplerainangel 9 years
I just read this article... the disordered behavior are things like obsessive calorie counting, compulsive exercising, eating in secret, compulsive over-eating, food addiction, being a career dieter and purging, etc... I can see most women having at least one of these behaviors.
Smilesp Smilesp 9 years
I work at a restaurant and I've noticed women definitely have different eating habits when they are with other women. It's like they compete to see who can eat the least, and if they want something unhealthy like dessert or french fries they feel like they have to make excuses to justify eating it. It drives me crazy...I just want to say "Eat whatever you want, no one cares!"
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
I'm sort of surprised by the 75%. I'd be curious to know what sort of disordered behavior they're talking about.
bronzebeauty719 bronzebeauty719 9 years
its scary to see how spread the problem of body image really is.. i too had an eating disorder and though i am at a much healthier weight it is true you never fully recover...and for me, as well, it is when im stressed or going through some difficult time that the symptons flare up...i definetely think it has to do with an issue of control because when you do have an eating disorder you never ever reach your goal is unreal.. so i definetely think we women need to encourage each other to be healthy rather than negatively influencing each other's confidence with those glances that we all know means "you really shouldnt eat that"
Bookish Bookish 9 years
I've never known a woman who was happy with her body the way it was, and/or had never been on a diet (diet being restrictive eating pattern as opposed to healthy, natural eating pattern). I'm not surprised with the figures.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I don't think it's neccesarily a bad thing that so many people are trying to lose weight. Especially when you see obesity stats. But I wish people would try to be more healthy about it
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