Too Few Seeking Eating Disorder Treatment

Woman sitting on bench struggling with co-occurring disorders

The perils of eating disorders are more commonly discussed than ever before, and awareness of these mental illnesses has certainly increased. Even so, they continue to harm people at alarming rates and treatment is not as accessible, or utilized, as one might think. So why are so few sufferers seeking eating disorder treatment?

In fact, a recent study conducted by Yale University has provided shocking insight into the utilization of eating disorder treatment [1].

The Study

The study interviewed 36,309 adults with DSM-IV eating disorder diagnoses.

Data regarding participant’s eating disorder symptomatology were gathered using the Diagnostic Assessment of Eating Disorders [1].

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They were also asked questions regarding their help-seeking behaviors, such as if they ever:

  1. talked to any kind of counselor, therapist, doctor, psychologist, or similar professional to get help for low weight
  2. went to a self-help or support group, used a hotline, or visited an Internet chat room
  3. were a patient in any kind of hospital overnight or longer;
  4. went to an emergency department
  5. were prescribed any medicines or drugs
  6. went to Overeaters Anonymous or any other 12-step group [1].

Individuals also provided information on age, sex, ethnicity/race, marital status, and educational level [1].


The overall takeaway from this research is that “a relatively low frequency of adults with an eating disorder diagnosis (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder) sought help for their symptoms or concerns [2].”

More specifically of the 36,309 adults surveyed, less than 30% of them received help from a counselor or a psychologist for their eating disorder, and those struggling with anorexia nervosa showed the lowest rates of help-seeking behaviors [1].

Additionally, 20% did not receive medication services.

College Man Seeking Eating Disorder TreatmentAnother important bit of information from this data showed that “compared to women with BED, men were significantly less likely to seek help and reported a significantly older age when first seeking treatment despite significantly earlier BED onset and longer duration [1].”

The stigma and shame that men might experience surrounding their disorder could be the reason for this difference.

Ethnic/racial minorities were also found less likely to seek out treatment [1]. The study attributes this to research showing that treatment barriers among ethnically diverse populations include “financial difficulties, lack of insurance, fears of being labeled, belief that others cannot help, and ED symptoms not being screened by healthcare providers [1].”

Implications Of Not Seeking Eating Disorder Treatment

This data indicates the need for increased awareness for individuals as well as medical and mental health professionals of the signs and symptoms of disordered eating. This is “needed to help guide patients to appropriate, evidence-based treatment options [1].


[1] Coffino, J., Udo, T., Grilo, C. (2019). Rates of help-seeking in US adults with lifetime DSM-IV eating disorders: prevalence across diagnoses and difference by sex and ethnicity/race. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 94:8.

[2] Unknown (2019). Study: people with eating disorders infrequently seek help for symptoms. Retrieved from

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EDS Woman Counselor - 468x60At Eating Disorder Solutions, compassion is at the root of everything we do. We understand that eating disorders are complex, deeply rooted mental health and medical conditions which require personalized treatment for a successful recovery. By integrating behavioral health modalities and clinical interventions, we endeavor to address disordered eating at its source.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.

Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published September 25, 2019, on
Reviewed & Approved on September 25, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.