Woman's Guide to Eating Disorders
(& How They Can Be Treated)

Common eating disorders, symptoms and treatment options

Eating disorders are common among women of all ages. Not only are eating disorders devastating to the emotional and mental psyche, but they are also detrimental to women’s physical health.

Here are some statistics about how big of a health problem eating disorders are in the U.S.:

  • As many as 20 million American women will develop an eating disorder.

  • Women account for 85 to 95 percent of these diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

  • Binge eating is most common, affecting 3.5 percent of women.

  • Bulimia affects 2 to 3 percent of women.

  • Anorexia is actually the least common eating disorder, affecting 0.5 to 1 percent of American women.

If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, reach out to a trusted OB/GYN doctor right away for guidance, support and treatment options.

What are eating disorders?

Both men and women can suffer from eating disorders. In women, eating disorders often involve a patient's concerns about eating and their body weight. However, self-expression also commonly plays a role in these conditions.

Unfortunately, since women with these conditions often have poor body image issues, they usually delay recognizing the problem and seeking treatment.

Here is a closer look at the most common types of eating disorders, as well as the signs and symptoms of each.


Anorexia involves a patient having body image issues where they see themselves as fat or in need of weight loss, even if they are thin or approaching emaciation. Sometimes women with anorexia take part in excessive exercise. Body mass loss exceeds 15 percent in these cases.

Of all the mental illnesses, anorexia has one of the highest death rates because of medical complications or suicide.


Bulimic women may binge eat 2,000 to as much as 20,000 calories at a time. Shame or guilt-related feelings after binging cause affected women to eliminate the excess calories by purging.

Although vomiting is the behavior most commonly associated with bulimia, some might take enemas,  laxatives or diuretics or exercise or fast to excessive levels. Many women with bulimia have a lot of weight fluctuation, and body size may vary from underweight to overweight.

Binge eating

Women who engage in binge eating typically eat a lot of food at once but refrain from purging or fasting. Some women who binge eat have serious weight issues. Common feelings that binge eaters feel include depression, disgust and guilt.

Eating disorder not otherwise specified

Some women have eating disorders that don't fall under these most common three. Although what causes eating disorders of this type is unknown, women with a disorder that is not otherwise specified may not meet the diagnostic criteria for the other types of eating disorders.

Many women who desire treatment for an eating disorder fall into this category.

Eating disorder symptoms and mental health

If you suspect someone you care about has an eating disorder, be on the lookout for these common symptoms:

  • Overly concerned with food, dieting or weight loss

  • Restrictive against whole categories of foods or calorie count per meal

  • Food rituals

  • Uncomfortable eating with others

  • Skipping meals

  • Frequent dieting

  • Extreme mood swings

  • Dramatic weight loss or gain

  • Excessive exercise

  • Complaining of stomach pain or constipation

  • Loss of menstrual cycle

Those with eating disorders typically suffer from a mental health issue as well. These can range from low self-esteem to depression to suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, eating disorders also go hand in hand with substance abuse, such as alcoholism or drug addiction.

Eating disorder causes and treatments

There’s no single answer as to what causes eating disorders.

One biological factor is that women with mothers who have had anorexia or bulimia have a higher chance of developing an eating disorder. Studies have also indicated that an identical twin is more likely to have an eating disorder if her twin has one.

Brain chemistry and hormones may also be factors. Sometimes traumatic experiences or verbal abuse may play a role. Girls who take part in gymnastics, dancing, modeling or other image-conscious activities may be more prone to developing eating disorders.

Society also plays a role in women having unhealthy ideas about their body size. Photos of celebrities with drastic weight loss can send the message that extremes are normal and healthy.

Treatment for eating disorders can vary depending on the condition and the severity of symptoms. Residential treatment programs can provide medical and psychiatric supervision to varying degrees, depending on the severity of the disorder.

Day and outpatient programs can be helpful for those who need assistance with recovery skills. Ongoing psychological help will be available, especially if other conditions are present. There will also be medical evaluations to help ensure a patient's safe return to health.

Resources for women with eating disorders

If you need help or have questions about eating disorders, know that you can talk to your OB/GYN for advice. A trusted doctor can play an important role in you being able to get the help that you need.

In the meantime, the following resources are specifically aimed at helping women who suffer from eating disorders:

  • Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association helps provide support for people with eating disorders, as well as their family members. Support groups are one of the vital services this organization offers.

  • ANAD helps provide eating disorder-related peer support. In addition to support groups, the organization also has a mentorship program and hotline.

  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helps connect people to the support that they need in living with an eating disorder. Women living with an eating disorder can use screening tools, as well as find free or low-cost help.

  • The Office on Women’s Health is a government organization within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that specifically focuses on the wellbeing and health of American women. 

  • Psycom was founded by Dr. Ivan Goldberg as a way for patients to begin self assessment of mental health disorders—including eating disorders. The site has since evolved into a highly-regarded and trusted mental health resource.

If you recognize some of these symptoms in yourself (or a friend) and you’re ready to seek help, contact one of our trusted doctors at All About Women today. We’ll schedule an appointment and get you on a path toward health, recovery and wellness.