Impact of Bullying on Eating Disorders

Young girls bulling another kid.

With all the fall festivities commencing and changing of seasons, it may not be as widely known that October is National Bullying Prevention Month.  Set aside as a time when communities can unite across the nation to raise awareness of bullying prevention through events, activities, outreach and education, this month brings an important message to eating disorder communities as well.

Bullying, especially when taking the form of making fun of weight or teasing about body shape, can directly contribute to the development of an eating disorder.  While the causes of eating disorders are not completely understood, it has been shown that several factors can contribute to the development of these diseases.  However, bullying is not typically portrayed as a major reason why eating disorders develop in the limelight of blame that the media is receiving.

Perhaps there is not as great of an awareness of bullying as a potential contributing factor to the development of an eating disorder?  After all, these malicious behaviors are often done behind closed doors, under the radar screens of public exposure. Not to mention the frequent public bullying over weight that most of us have witnessed.  It seems inescapable.

A recent study published by North Dakota State University sought to look at the contributing factors a bit more clearly…taking the direct perception of the eating disorder sufferer.  While society would largely attribute eating disorders on distorted body images shown through media, researchers have discovered more pieces to the puzzle.

Participants in this study were all individuals with an eating disorder and were asked to self-report what they thought were the causes of their eating disorder.  Among the categories they could choose from were media/culture ideal (thin ideal images and messages promoted in the media), and social problems (such as pressure from peers, teasing, etc).  Interestingly enough, results from the survey showed that social problems were more frequently selected as a cause for an eating disorder than media and culture ideals, with this as the primary cause chosen for participants with bulimia and both anorexia/bulimia [1].  Overall, researchers found that social, psychological, and body image problems were the most frequent causes cited by individuals with eating disorders, which is contrary to the popular opinions that media is one of the main influences of eating disorders.

Findings such as these are monumental to achieving better understanding, awareness, and prevention of eating disorders.

Bullying can cause detrimental effects on anyone’s self-esteem and can be a contributing factor to the development of an eating disorder.  If you have been the victim of bullying, are concerned about a loved one who has experienced bullying, or want to join in the Anti-Bullying movement, here are a few suggestions:

  • Check out the National Bullying Prevention Center for ways a variety of resources to educate and inspire others to prevent bullying where you live as well as events to participate in.
  • Promote and support an ideal of beauty and that focuses on unique elements, beginning with you!   Celebrate qualities in yourself and others, spread encouragement and positivity whenever possible.
  • Become a model for healthy and active behaviors and actions.  Stand up against criticism or joking about body shape, size or food choices.
  • Love yourself!  Surround yourself around others who embrace you and lift you up.

Our understanding of eating disorders is increasing, and embracing the evolving knowledge of these diseases can help us become better advocates for those who are suffering.  Join in the fight today.  Stand up against bullying and for eating disorder prevention…you have the power to make a difference!


[1]:  Blodgett Salafia, E.H. and Schaefer, M.K.  Qualitative Analysis of the Perceptions of the Causes of Eating Disorders According to Individuals with Eating Disorders.



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.