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Do you know which mental illness has the highest mortality rate? It may surprise you that the answer is eating disorders, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

Eating disorders are illnesses in which individuals spend so much time thinking about or worrying about food that it interferes with their mental/emotional state or ability to function. At least 30 million people of all ages and genders struggle with eating disorders in the U.S., according to ANAD, but the illness is more common in women and is most likely to first appear in those aged 18-21. 

There are many types of eating disorders, including: 

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Eating disorders are a mental illness — meaning they have psychological and emotional causes. There are several mindsets that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Some of these mindsets may even seem “healthy” at first glance. They include:

Being overly concerned with healthy eating. The term “orthorexia” describes a condition in which individuals are so concerned about healthy eating that it affects their well being. Associated behaviors include counting calories, logging each meal or cutting out foods for non-medical purposes, and these behaviors can lead to eating disorders. 

Getting “in shape” for a big occasion. The phrase “sweating for the dress” is used by brides-to-be attempting to lose weight or improve their figure before their wedding. The mindset of pushing your body to get “in shape” before a special occasion can promote the idea that we are only acceptable when we look a certain way or weigh a certain amount. 

If you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing an eating disorder, ANAD offers free educational materials and resources, including a helpline available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST.