Frequently Asked Questions from Students

NEDA receives many requests from students working on school assignments about eating disorders. We are hoping that the information compiled on this page will help answer the most commonly asked questions we receive from students. If you have any additional questions please contact us here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Information about NEDA


  • What is NEDA’s mission statement?

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders, serving as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care.

You can learn more about us here.

  • How long has the NEDA been helping others?

NEDA was formed in 2001.

  • How does NEDA support people with eating disorders?

We support people impacted by eating disorders in many way, including through:

    • NEDA’s online screening, which is a great tool to determine if it’s time to seek professional help.
    • NEDA Walks are inspirational, community-building events where passionate walkers raise money to fund eating disorders education, prevention, and support, as well as advocacy and research initiatives.
    • NEDA also has various campaigns throughout the year to raise awareness of eating disorders and related issues. You can learn more about NEDA campaigns here.
    • NEDA’s Feeding Hope Fund for Clinical Research aims to support projects that will improve the lives of individuals affected by eating disorders by awarding research grants to researchers. 
    • NEDA’s Campus Warriors is an outreach initiative designed to engage colleges and universities across the United States to raise awareness about eating disorders and fundraise for NEDA. Campus Warriors are individual students, faculty members, and student organizations with direct or indirect lived experience with eating disorders representing NEDA on their college and university campuses.
    • The Body Project is a group-based prevention intervention that provides a forum for women and girls to confront unrealistic beauty ideals and engages them in the development of healthy body image through verbal, written, and behavioral exercises.
  • Are there any ways that people can get involved in the work that NEDA does?

Yes, there are many ways one can get involved and volunteer:

    • NEDA Walks
    • Campus Warriors
    • Eating Disorders Awareness Week
    • Other awareness campaigns throughout the year
    • The Body Project

As well as other volunteer opportunities you can learn about here.

Information about Eating Disorders


  • What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

  • How common are eating disorders?

According to the 2020 Deloitte report 9% of the U.S. population or 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

  • What are common signs of an eating disorder?

Examples of common warning signs of an eating disorder include:

    • Preoccupation with weight loss, food, calories, and dieting
    • Refusalto eat certain foods, and often elimination of whole food groups (carbohydrates, fats, etc.)
    • Withdrawal from friends and previously pleasurable activities and becoming more isolated and secretive
    • Extreme concern with body size and shape
    • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance

For a more detailed list of the warning signs and the characteristics of different eating disorders you can learn more here.

  • What is the most common reason someone develops an eating disorder?

More research is needed to understand the exact causes of eating disorders, however, research has indicated that there is no single cause but rather a combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors that converge and set off an individual’s predisposed genetic vulnerability. Several decades of genetic research show that biological factors are an important influence in who develops an eating disorder. A societal factor, such as the media-driven thin body ideal, is an example of an environmental trigger that has been linked to increased risk of developing an eating disorder. Environmental factors also include physical illnesses, childhood teasing and bullying, and other life stressors. Eating disorders commonly co-occur with other mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, they may run in families, as there are biological predispositions that make individuals vulnerable to developing an eating disorder.

You can visit our website for more information on factors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder here.

  • Are certain personality traits more common in people with eating disorders?

One of the strongest risk factors for an eating disorder is perfectionism, especially a type of perfectionism called self-oriented perfectionism, which involves setting unrealistically high expectations for yourself. Cognitive inflexibility or difficulty with going back and forth between different tasks or mental states is also a risk factor.

You can learn more about the personality traits commonly found in eating disorders here.

  • How do cultural and societal factors influence the development of eating disorders?

There are many sociocultural factors that can contribute to the development of disordered eating and body image issues and are a significant risk factor for eating disorders when combined with other biological and psychological factors. Some of the social factors are cultural norms that overvalue appearance, drive for perceived ideal body type, historical trauma, and weight stigma.

You can learn more about other risk factors for eating disorders here.

  • When do eating disorders usually begin?

Eating disorders typically begin during adolescence or young adulthood and rates increase with age.1 However, it is important to emphasize that eating disorders can affect people of all ages. 

  • How prevalent are eating disorders in different age groups and genders?

Despite the stereotype that eating disorders primarily occur in women, research shows that eating disorders are nearly as common among men as they are among women with an estimated overall lifetime prevalence of eating disorders 8.60% for females and 4.07% for males.1 Furthermore, eating disorders are even more prevalent among those who identify as transgender or nonbinary. For example, a 2015 study of US undergraduates found that transgender students were over four times more likely than their cisgender counterparts to report an eating disorder diagnosis.2

Research on prevalence rates by age is very limited, however, a review of the research from 2018-2019 found that the overall estimated prevalence rates for eating disorders in one year were highest among 20-29 year olds.1 You can learn more about specific prevalence by age from “The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders” from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders/

  • Is there a specific demographic that is most impacted by eating disorders?

Eating disorders affect individuals of any gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and size. We know, however, that some groups may experience eating disorders at a higher rate than others. We have several statistics on this here on our website that you may find helpful. You can also learn more about increased risk factors of eating disorders for specific populations here.

  • What are the common misconceptions or stigmas surrounding eating disorders? 

There are many myths and misconceptions about eating disorders. One common misconception is that eating disorders are a fad, phase, or choice. Eating disorders are real, serious, and complex mental illnesses that stem from a variety of biological, psychological and social factors and can lead to devastating consequences for one’s health, productivity, and relationships. They are not just a “fad” or a “phase.” Moreover, eating disorders do not discriminate. Historically, people thought that only thin, white, affluent young girls could experience an eating disorder and we know that’s not the case. The truth is that you cannot tell if a person has an eating disorder based on their age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, or weight.

You can learn more about the common myths about eating disorders here.

  • Can eating disorders lead to other diseases or disorders?

Eating disorders commonly co-occur with several other psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use. You can read more about co-occurring conditions here on our website. Eating disorders can also have serious health consequences and can affect every system in our bodies. You can read more about them here

  • What are some prevention programs for eating disorders? 

There are several prevention programs that can change attitudes and behaviors associated with eating disorders and disordered eating. There is particularly good evidence that targeted programs using a social learning theory, cognitive behavioral, media literacy, and cognitive dissonance approaches are effective with adolescents and young adult women. One such program is called The Body Project which is a group-based intervention that provides a forum for high school girls and college aged women to confront unrealistic appearance ideals and develop healthy body image and self-esteem. 

You can learn more about the Body Project and facilitator training here

Parents/guardians as well as educators have an important role in the prevention of eating disorders in youth as well as helping those who have an eating disorder get the help that they need. For example, loved ones and educators can provide psycho-education about eating disorders, recognize the signs, and connect those who are struggling with resources. It is important for school counselors and educators to create a judgment free and supportive environment for those who may be struggling and be knowledgeable about resources that may be available in the community. 

You can learn more about how educators can help here

You can learn more about prevention here.

  • How important is it to get help if you are experiencing eating concerns?

We recommend professional help at the very first sign of an eating disorder or disordered eating. Eating disorders are very complex issues and should be treated by professionals who specialize in this field. NEDA has an online screening tool that could also be helpful in this process. It can help determine if it’s time to seek professional help. 

You can learn more on sharing concerns about eating behaviors here.

You can learn more about how to find treatment here.

  • How do eating disorders impact loved ones?

Family and loved ones can be great allies in treatment. It is crucial for loved ones to learn more about eating disorders so that they can support the individual affected by an eating disorder. Since eating disorders are isolating illnesses and involve mood swings, the affected individual may isolate themselves from their families and friends. For this reason, it is important for loved ones to have open communication and express their concerns in a non-judgemental way. 

You can learn more about how to help a loved one here.

Eating Disorder Treatment


  • What are the different levels/types of treatment for eating disorders?

Eating disorder treatment can be delivered in a variety of settings. It can be delivered in an inpatient, residential, day treatment, intensive outpatient, or outpatient setting with individual practitioners such as therapists, dietitians, medical doctors, and psychiatrists.

You can learn more about these levels of care here

  • What is the best way to treat an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex illnesses and the best strategy is to seek help from professionals who specialize in these illnesses. It is recommended to work with a multidisciplinary team of professionals, which consists of a therapist, nutritionist, psychiatrist, and a medical doctor. The recommended level of care will depend on the severity of the symptoms and the person’s needs. 

You can learn more about treatment and levels of care here.

  • How effective are various treatment approaches for eating disorders?

There are several types of psychotherapy for eating disorders and research suggests that some of them may be more effective than others for certain individuals and for certain types of eating disorders. However, the decision about which type of therapy is best made in collaboration with the person seeking treatment, the therapist and, as appropriate, with the patient’s family. 

Many professionals now recommend the use of “evidence-based treatment,” which usually means that the therapy has been used in a research study and found to be effective in reducing eating disorder symptoms, encouraging weight restoration in underweight patients, and decreasing eating disorder thoughts. Some examples of evidenced based approaches to treat eating disorders include but are not limited to: 3

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is a relatively short-term, symptom-oriented therapy focusing on the beliefs, values, and cognitive processes that maintain the eating disorder behavior. It aims to modify distorted beliefs and attitudes about the meaning of weight, shape, and appearance, which are correlated to the development and maintenance of the eating disorder.
    • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is focused on changing the person’s actions rather than their thoughts and feelings. Patients are taught to identify core values and commit to creating goals that fulfill these values. 
    • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which is a behavioral treatment supported by empirical evidence for treatment of binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa. DBT assumes that the most effective place to begin treatment is with changing behaviors. Treatment focuses on developing skills to replace maladaptive eating disorder behaviors. 
    • Family-Based Treatment (FBT) Also known as the Maudsley Method or Maudsley Approach, this is a home-based treatment approach that has been shown to be effective for adolescents with anorexia and bulimia. FBT doesn’t focus on the cause of the eating disorder but instead places initial focus on refeeding and full weight restoration to promote recovery. All family members, including chosen family,  are considered an essential part of treatment, which consists of re-establishing healthy eating, restoring weight and interrupting compensatory behaviors; returning control of eating back to the adolescent; and focusing on remaining issues.

You can learn more about eating disorder treatment, including additional types of psychotherapy that research has found to be effective, an explanation of the levels of care and what to expect from treatment here.

  • How long is the recovery process?

The length of the treatment and recovery process depends on the person. Recovery looks different for everyone and is a complex process that requires a combination of medical and psychological treatment. For some individuals, particularly those with anorexia nervosa, recovery may take years and not everyone with an eating disorder will recover fully, though many do improve with treatment. Some factors that can impact the length of time it takes to recover can be the severity of the eating disorder symptoms, the person’s age, having co-occurring mental health conditions, the person’s motivation to recover, and the quality of and access to care.

It is important to know that even with full recovery, many people with eating disorders find that they have to take steps to make sure they stay well. This can include planning meals; regular check-ins with a therapist, dietitian, or doctor; medication; and/or other types of self-care. Furthermore, during the recovery process it’s common for people to experience slips, backslides or relapses and return to old eating disordered behaviors, especially during times of stress. 

You can learn more about the recovery process here and relapse here.

  • What resources and support networks are available for individuals and families of those affected by eating disorders?

You can find information and resources for individuals and families impacted by eating disorders on NEDA’s website. For example, our screening tool, while not diagnostic, can be a helpful way for those who think they may have an eating disorder to get a better understanding of what’s going on and whether professional help is recommended. We also have information and resources on a wide range of issues for those impacted by eating disorders depending on the needs of the individual. For example, we have information and resources about how to help a loved one, sharing concerns about your eating behaviors with others, and information about dealing with insurance issues. For those seeking professional treatment we have information about where to search for eating disorder professionals and a list of free and low cost support including online support groups. 

Adolescents and Eating Disorders


  • Do adolescents experience eating disorders more than others? 

Even though eating disorders affect individuals of any age, we know that the majority of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. For this reason, adolescence is a sensitive time for individuals who may be at risk for developing an eating disorder. Intervention at an early age, at the first sign of an eating disorder, is crucial for recovery. Therefore it is important to learn more about eating disorders and to recognize the signs that can help adolescents seek help before their symptoms get worse. Parents/guardians as well as educators play an important role in this effort to identify adolescents who may be at risk for developing or have an eating disorder and get the help they need.

You can learn more about how parents/guardians can help here.

You can learn more about how educators can help here.

  • How should adolescents address friends, family members, or peers who may be struggling with an eating disorder?

Support is an important part of the recovery process. Since there is stigma surrounding eating disorders, it is essential for the person in the support role to learn as much as they can about eating disorders, and have open communication with their loved one. Encouraging the person to seek professional help and asking them how they would like to be supported throughout the process are essential. Since eating disorders are isolating illnesses, for the person to know that they are not alone in this journey can help them progress in their recovery. 

You can learn more about how to help a loved one here.

Social Media and Eating Disorders


  • How does social media influence eating disorders?

In terms of eating disorders and social media, the images that people are exposed to in the media and unrealistic appearance ideals may increase body dissatisfaction, which we know is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. We also know that social media can be accessed by people of all ages, which means that individuals of any age are exposed to these messages. On the other hand social media is also a great tool that can be used to bring communities together to support recovery and raise awareness of eating disorders. 

  • Is social media one of the leading causes or contributing factors in the development of an eating disorder?

We need more research to determine the exact causes of eating disorders, however we do know that eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and risk factors involve a combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural issues some of which include weight stigma, bullying, and internalization of the appearance ideal. Although there are many supportive recovery communities on social media, there is also content that promotes disordered eating behaviors, weight stigma, and the appearance ideal. Exposure to such accounts may increase body dissatisfaction and encourage disordered eating behaviors, which at some point can turn into a full blown eating disorder. 

Considering that social media plays a big role in people’s lives, it is important to be aware of content and images that promote the appearance ideal, disordered eating and exercise behaviors on social media. Being exposed to this content can increase body dissatisfaction and encourage individuals to engage in these disordered behaviors. For this reason, it is important to be a critical viewer of the media and engage with content that promotes recovery, size diversity, and inclusivity. 

  • What steps can we take to reduce the harmful impact of social media on eating disorders? 

Social media platforms have been working on creating safer spaces for those affected by eating disorders but there is a lot more to be done. Effectively moderating eating disorder content and creating access to resources are some of the steps that can help make these platforms safer. On an individual level, choosing the content that you are consuming mindfully, being selective about the content you are consuming, and being critical of the images and messages you see on social media are helpful in creating a safer social media experience.  

For more about becoming a critical viewer of the media here.

  • How can social media be used positively in the context of preventing eating disorder development or relapse? 

There are many accounts on social media that focus on recovery and promote awareness of eating disorders. These sites can be a great tool that can be used to bring communities together to support recovery and raise awareness of eating disorders.

  • How does social media affect body image? 

The media is a powerful tool which has the potential to positively or negatively influence one’s body image. While there is no single cause of body dissatisfaction or disordered eating, numerous studies have found exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to be correlated with body dissatisfaction.4 The media often perpetuates dieting and a drive for thinness. 

You can learn more about body image here.

You can learn more about the media influence on body image here.

Body Image and Eating Disorders


  • What is body image?

Body image is defined as one’s thoughts and perceptions about their physical appearance. Negative body image involves feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-consciousness. Many people with a negative body image feel that their bodies are flawed in comparison to others and have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

  • How can body image standards in our society potentially lead to disordered eating or a full blown eating disorder?

We are all bombarded with messages about the “ideal” body appearance in our society. The appearance standards may lead to body dissatisfaction and negative body image, which we know is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder.

You can learn more about body image here.

  • How do beauty standards impact those who are in recovery from an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are biopsychosocial illnesses, which means that they arise from a combination of biological, psychological, and social risk factors. The cultural norms that overvalue appearance, the drive for perceived ideal body type, and weight stigma are some of these social risk factors. The widespread beauty standards continue to add to the challenges those who are in recovery are experiencing. For this reason, we recommend seeking help from an eating disorder specialist who can help the person understand the effect these messages have on them and how to manage emotions that arise from being exposed to these ideals. 

  • What are some factors that affect body image?

There are different factors that can impact someone’s body image, such as social and psychological pressures. Most people think about their looks and want to present their best selves; however, it can become problematic when one’s value and worth is contingent on their appearance. Some signs that someone has an unhealthy obsession with their appearance may include negative comments about eating or their weight, and body checking (i.e., pinching or grabbing at their stomach, waist, thighs, and arms). 

Raising Awareness about Eating Disorders


  • Why do you think raising awareness about eating disorders is important?

One of the ways that we can work towards changing the culture and removing the stigma associated with eating disorders is through raising awareness about these illnesses and the need for treatment. Far too often people are not aware of how common eating disorders are and that these disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid use disorder.5

Raising awareness about eating disorders and educating the public about its consequences are also essential for prevention efforts and in supporting those who are experiencing an eating disorder. Prevention and psychoeducation programs in schools and communities can help remove the stigma around eating disorders and make early intervention possible. 

  • How can you raise awareness about eating disorders?

The first step is learning about eating disorders. Then, it is important to speak up to make your voice heard. NEDA and multiple other non-profit organizations organize several awareness campaigns throughout the year. Partaking in these campaigns and making your voice heard are essential ways to raise awareness. 

Organizing your own awareness campaigns in schools and in communities are also great ways of engaging people to talk about these complex mental illnesses.

You can find more information information and resources about organizing awareness events here.

Schools and Eating Disorders


Should schools educate students about eating disorders? 

Students and educators can play an integral part in eating disorder prevention, detection, and recovery. Schools can provide resources for those who are experiencing an eating disorder and also assist students while they are in recovery. Schools can also play a part in raising awareness of eating disorders and providing psychoeducation. Teaching about eating disorders can help decrease the stigma and can encourage those who are suffering to reach out for help. Awareness campaigns in schools and in communities are great ways of engaging people to talk about these complex mental illnesses. There is more information and resources on our website about organizing awareness events. 

You can learn more about how educators can help here as well as resources and information for students here.

  • Does NEDA provide any information for schools or a curriculum to use? 

We have various resources on our website specifically for the school community here as well as information for educators on how to help students who may have an eating disorder or who are recovering from an eating disorder here. We also have a slidedeck presentation which provides general information about eating disorders and how to help someone who may have an eating disorder here. Additionally, we have an eating disorders screening tool as well as guides to raise awareness about eating disorders in schools on our website here

How to Help a Loved One


  • How can you help someone with an eating disorder?

The first step is to learn as much as you can about eating disorders and talking openly and honestly about the concerns you have for the person who may be struggling with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are secretive in nature, therefore, providing a safe, non-judgemental space to discuss your concerns about a loved one is essential in supporting them. 

You can learn more about eating disorders and how to help a loved here.

  • What is the best way to approach someone who is actively struggling with an eating disorder?

If you are worried about someone’s eating behaviors or attitudes, it is important to express your concerns with honesty and respect in a loving and supportive manner rather than being judgemental or perpetuating myths that eating disorders are a fad, phase or something that a person can just stop by willpower alone. It is also important to discuss your worries early on, rather than waiting until a person shows physical and emotional signs of a full-blown eating disorder. Be sure to address your concerns in a calm, caring, and non-confrontational manner. Address specific behaviors using “I” statements (e.g., “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch”) and try to avoid accusatory “You” statements (e.g., “You have to eat something! You’re out of control!”). 

You can learn more about how to approach someone about eating disorder concerns here.

Statistics and Research


  • What statistical information do you have and where can I find additional information not listed on your website?

There is some eating disorder statistics and research listed on our website here.

Additional Information and statistics can be obtained from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) here and from the “The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders” from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health here.

Some additional journal titles you can search for specific areas of research are through access to electronic libraries through your school:

    1. International Journal of Eating Disorders
    2. European Eating Disorders Review
    3. Journal of Eating Disorders
    4. Eating Disorders: the Journal of Treatment & Prevention
    5. Eating Disorders Review
    6. NIMH Science News about Eating Disorders
    7. UNBOUND Medline – a search engine for academic journals
    8. Journal of Women’s Health
    9. Eating Behaviors

Citing NEDA Information


  • Can I use the information on your website as part of the curriculum, project or presentation I am creating?

All the information on our website can be used for educational purposes so long as it is cited as coming from NEDA. 

Sources


[1]  Deloitte Access Economics. The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders. June 2020. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders/.

[2] Diemer, E. W., Grant, J. D., Munn-Chernoff, M. A., Patterson, D. A., & Duncan, A. E. (2015). Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and Eating-Related Pathology in a National Sample of College Students. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 57(2), 144–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.03.003.

[3] Crone, C., Anzia, D. J., Fochtmann, L. J., & Dahl, D. (2023). The American Psychiatric Association practice guideline for the treatment of patients with eating disorders. American Psychiatric Association. Available at: https://psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890424865.

[4]  Barakat, S., McLean, S. A., Bryant, E., Le, A., Marks, P., National Eating Disorder Research Consortium, Touyz, S., & Maguire, S. (2023). Risk factors for eating disorders: findings from a rapid review. Journal of eating disorders, 11(1), 8. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-022-00717-4.

[5] Arcelus, Jon et al. “Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. A meta-analysis of 36 studies.” Archives of general psychiatry 68,7 (2011): 724-31. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74.