How Common Is Disordered Eating? (AKA Why I Keep Writing About It)

Many of you know that my background is in natural medicine, meaning that my healthcare training largely involved counseling patients on lifestyle modifications — especially those involving food. Like many of my colleagues, a large proportion of my patient base is constituted by individuals struggling with inflammatory and autoimmune conditions which require significant diet changes in order to heal. The symptoms experienced by these patients are measurable and real, and are part of a diagnosis that is accepted by the greater medical community.

However, many lay-bloggers are self-proclaimed wellness gurus, and they present themselves as health experts about food allergies and intolerances, attributing nearly every symptom to a hypersenstivity reaction. Without going into the details of immune function and explaining why most of the recommendations made by these individuals are completely off the mark, I’ll say this: when you hear hoof beats, don’t think zebras. In other words, it’s far more likely that a person has disordered eating than it is that they have a food allergy, and this is how we should approach healthcare. Here’s why…


Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under age 18. [That’s one in 13 children.]

Over one-half of teenage girls [one in 2] and nearly one-third of teenage boys [one in 3] use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.


About 40% of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.

A study of more than 2400 individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97% had one or more co-occurring conditions, including major depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and ADHD.

Increasing Morbidity

The prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50% between 1998 and 2001.

From 1999 to 2009, hospitalizations related to eating disorders involving children under 12 years old increased 72%.


More than forty percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.

Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate [aka the second deadliest] of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction.


About one in three children with a food allergy reports being bullied as a result. [33%]

Up to 40% of overweight girls and 37% of overweight boys are teased about their weight by peers or family members.

Marginalized Groups

The lifetime risk of developing a food allergy for non-white African American children is 15.4% compared to 13.2% of white children.

Black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to exhibit bulimic behavior, such as bingeing and purging.

In all of those research-based comparisons, the likelihood of disordered eating behavior is higher than the likelihood of an allergy and the consequences are more likely to be severe.

A little more, to seal the deal about dieting…

  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.
  • Girls who diet frequently are 12x as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet.
  • Those who diet moderately are 5x more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practice extreme restriction are 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not.
  • Americans spend over $60 billion on dieting and diet products each year.
  • A content analysis of weight-loss advertising in 2001 found that more than half of all advertising for weight loss-products made use of false, unsubstantiated claims.

Diets are dangerous, and we need to be talking about it.

The statistics shared above were taken from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and the Food Allergies Resource and Education (FARE) organization. They can be accessed as follows:


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