According to health statistics provided by the Nemours Foundation (2007), approximately 1 to 2 percent of all students develop eating disorders. Although people often associate eating disorders with underweight individuals, individuals of all weights and sizes can suffer from eating disorders. Learn about the causes of anorexia, causes of bulimia and how some health statistics consider these conditions to be effects of obesity.

Eating Disorders and Obesity

Anorexia nervosa is the best known eating disorder. Causes of anorexia center on a distorted body image: No matter how thin or underweight the individual, she (or less often, he) sees herself as overweight or obese. Anorexic individuals severely restrict calorie intake, exercise obsessively and may abuse laxatives to lose weight.

Causes of bulimia are similar to the causes of anorexia. Bulimic individuals, however, alternate between episodes of uncontrolled or binge eating and “purging” to prevent weight gain. Purging may include forced vomiting or laxative abuse. Unlike anorexics, bulimics may be normal weight, overweight or obese.

Binge eating disorder occurs when a person binges on food on a regular basis, often in order to soothe unpleasant or negative emotions. Unlike bulimia, binge eating disorder doesn’t include purging after a binge, so many binge eaters are overweight or obese.

Disordered eating refers to unhealthy reactions to obesity or weight gain, including fasting, occasional binging/purging and yo-yo dieting.

Although disordered eating doesn’t occur often enough to warrant an eating disorder diagnosis, it can be a precursor to anorexia or bulimia.

Effects of Obesity and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious conditions that can cause serious health problems, including:

  • Delayed menstruation
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Heart and brain damage
  • Heart attacks
  • Malnutrition
  • Starvation
  • Stunted growth in adolescents.

Effects of Obesity on Eating Disorders

At first glance, anorexia and obesity may seem to be polar opposites. Yet according to health statistics, eating disorders and obesity have much in common. Society’s fascination with thinness runs at odds with a culture where obesity is increasingly common. High calorie fast food is easily accessible, and food is often seen as a reward or a way to provide comfort or relieve stress.

Health statistics show that attitudes towards food are at odds with society’s obsession with thinness, a conflict that drives some people to eating disorders. Being overweight or obese — or perceiving your body as overweight — increases the risk of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, many people “treat” these emotions with eating.

In the case of binge eating disorder, a vicious cycle develops. People eat to relieve stress, negative emotions or boredom. Temporary relief of these emotions is quickly replaced by self-reproach, guilt and shame, which are often eased by more binging. Binge eating disorder sufferers often have no conscious idea why they eat.


Healthy Place. (2010). Obesity: Is it an eating disorder? Retrieved June 8, 2010, from

Nemours Foundation. (2007). Eating disorders. Retrieved June 8, 2010, from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. (n.d). Eating orders and obesity: How are they related? Retrieved June 8, 2010, from

 Posted on : June 13, 2014