Being Bullied Can Lead to an Eating Disorder

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recently announced that it will observe October as Bullying Prevention Awareness Month by sharing information on statistics and resources to bring awareness to this issue.  Serving as a crucial reminder that bullying prevention should be addressed, these initiatives are important in giving voices to the victims who are often suffering in silence.

Bullying affects children, adolescents, and adults nationwide and is becoming a serious problem.  Research has shown that approximately 28% of students ages 12-18 were bullied at school during the 2008-2009 school year [1].  In addition, middle schoolers are more likely to report being made fun or, pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on; threatened with harm; excluded; have property damaged or destroyed; and forced to do things they do want to, while high schoolers are more likely to report being cyberbullied [1].  Bullying can take on various forms and is a complex issue with multiple risk factors, including family, community, peers, and school.

Research has also shown that bullying can lead to eating disorders.  A study completed by the UK Charity Beat found that of the 600 participants surveyed, 90 percent of respondents admitted to being bullied at some point in their lives, with more than 75 percent of individuals suffering from an eating disorder admitting that bullying was a significant cause of their disorder [2].  Bullying damages self-esteem and destroys body image, both which can make an individual – child or adult – susceptible to developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.

Recognizing the signs of bullying can be an instrumental part to reversing the trend between eating disorders and bullying.  Often, children and adolescents who are bullied will not speak up or ask for help for fear of rejection, humiliation, or punishment.  Parents, teachers, coaches, and other adults who interact regularly with children should be aware of the many warning signs that may indicate someone is affected by bullying.  According to StopBullying.Gov, The following are common signs that a child is being bullied [3]:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Changes in sleeping patterns or reoccurring nightmares
  • Loss of interest in school, declining grades,
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Changes in eating patterns, such as binge eating or skipping meals.
  • Frequent complaints of physical ailments, such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Decreased self-esteem or feelings of helplessness
  • Personal property that is lost or destroyed, such as clothing, electronics, books, etc.

If you suspect that your child or someone close to you is being bullied, it is important to seek out help immediately and not ignore the issue.  People in authority, such as school officials or counselors, can play a helpful role in mediating and resolving conflict.  Being more than a bystander can prevent episodes of bullying from reoccurring or escalating into something more damaging, such as an eating disorder.

As this month is set aside to raise awareness of serious problem, you can partake in the efforts for Bullying Prevention.  Learning how to help raise awareness about bullying as well as taking actions to stop it can prevent a lifetime of damage for many individuals.


[1]:  “Bullying: What You Need To Know”.

[2]:  “67% increase in Bullying Leading to Eating Disorder”.

[3]: “Warning Signs”.

Image courtesy of Ambro/

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.