Anorexia by The Numbers: Causes, Prevelance, and Recovery Rates

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by failure to maintain an adequate body weight, body image disturbance, and excessive dietary restriction.¹  Anorexia may also be accompanied by periodic binge eating and purging/compensatory behaviors.¹ What does this mean?

“Anorexia is less about weight loss and more about the failure to sustain an appropriate weight for your age, gender, and body type.” 

Anorexia is a psychological disorder with a nutritional component.

Not all individuals with anorexia refuse to eat.

Not all individuals with anorexia weigh less than 100 lbs.

Not all individuals with anorexia look” like they have an eating disorder, whatever that may mean.

What Causes Anorexia?

Anorexia is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.²

It is estimated that between 50-80% of the risk for developing anorexia is genetic.² 

Other contributing factors include psychological abnormalities (anxiety, depression, OCD), childhood obesity, abuse and/or trauma, family and peer attitudes towards food and dieting, food allergies/intolerances, low self-esteem, and the diet culture, to name a few.³ For more information on this topic, click here.

Who is Affected?

Individuals of all races, ages, genders, nationalities, and religions are affected by anorexia.¹

Anorexia typically begins during early to mid-adolescence, however, the disorder can develop all across the lifespan.¹ Although anorexia is more commonly diagnosed in females, the number of males diagnosed is increasing. 

In the United States, it is estimated that 0.9% of women are affected by Anorexia in their lifetime.² When you do the math, that comes out to be 2,907,900 women. Around 0.3% of men in the United States are affected by Anorexia in their lifetime, which equals around 969,300 men.²

It is estimated that 33-50% of individuals with anorexia also have comorbid mood disorder, such as depression.² In addition, about 50% of anorexia patients also have comorbid anxiety disorders 

Who Recovers?

Approximately 50-60% of individuals with anorexia fully recover, meaning they maintain a healthy weight, consume an adequate amount of food for his or her lifestyle, exhibit no binging/purging behaviors, normalize eating patterns, establish a healthy body image and relationship with food, are flexible around meal time, and are able to function in social situations involving food.¹ Individuals who fully recover are not controlled by invasive thoughts about their body, exercise routine, weight, or diet. The frequency and intensity of these thoughts has greatly decreased, and the individual is able to dismiss/disobey these unhealthy thoughts with relative ease. 

Although recovery rates are widely varied, the average recovery period ranges from 3-6 years, although some individuals may recover in a year with early intervention, while others never recover in their lifetime.³

Around 20% of individuals who have anorexia partially recover, meaning that they  are able to function in society in a “normal” way i.e. get married, have kids, maintain a job position, etc.However, these individuals are still not free from invasive thoughts and eating disorder behaviors. Much of their time an attention is still placed on dieting, weight, and exercise, even if they have shown improvements in recovery and are medically stable.

The last 20% of individuals who have anorexia never recover. 4 These individuals are seen repeatedly in emergency rooms, treatment facilities, and mental health clinics.4

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. The top 2 most common causes of death include cardiovascular complications and suicide.5

My dear recovery warriors, it doesn’t have to be this way.

You and I have the power to change these statistics. If you have anorexia, you will end up in one of these 3 categories. If you have bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or any other specified feeding or eating disorder, you will end up in one of these 3 categories.

pexels-photo-132185Although you didn’t choose to develop an eating disorder, you can choose to recover. Choosing recovery means choosing life. How powerful is it that we have the ability to change the game? Your eating disorder has already taken many things from you in this life, but it doesn’t take away your ability to seek help and choose recovery. 

The thing is, we have to keep choosing recovery, every minute of every hour of every day. Progress is slow, but I’d take slow progress over signing my life over to ED any day.  

You have the power to choose. Don’t let ED take that away from you.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237.


  1. Academy for Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa
  2. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
  3. National Eating Disorder Association: Risk Factors
  4. Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders
  5. Mortality and Eating Disorders


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