Women in the Navy with Eating Disorders

Women in the Navy with Eating DisordersBoth male and female military personnel in all branches of service are at significantly increased risk for developing an eating disorder compared to their civilian counterparts.

Study of Eating Disorders in the Military Conducted by Military Personnel

Navy Captain Peggy McNulty conducted a study specifically to identify the patterns and prevalence of eating disorders in women in all branches of the military. The study entitled “A Comparative Analysis of the Prevalence and Contributing Factors of Eating Disordered Behaviors Among Active Duty Army, Navy and Air Force Women in the Health Care Arena” gives a very clear picture of the prevalence of eating disorders among women in all branches of service, as well as insight into the special circumstances that contribute to the higher than average rates of eating disorders among military women.

Captain McNulty found that eating disorders exist at higher rates among military women compared to civilian women and that eating disorders affect women in all branches of the military, regardless of rank or specific occupation. She concluded that a combination of factors contribute to increased risk for eating disorders among military women. Military women live a highly regimented lifestyle and are held to exacting standards of physical fitness, including weight. Despite this fact, they are often given a diet that is high in fat.

Military women also experience significant amounts of stress and anxiety related to job performance, demanding occupations, serious responsibilities, high consequences for failure, ambition for promotion, overseas deployment, separation from families and difficulty balancing career with family obligations.

In a separate study, Captain McNulty found that eating disorders are also inordinately high among men in the military for the same reasons.

Study of Eating Disorders in the Military Conducted by Impartial Civilians

Anatomy of an Eating Disorder

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A similar study conducted by Dr. Tamara D. Lauder, MD, on the prevalence of eating disorders among women in the Army reached similar conclusions. Lauder found that of the women involved in the study, roughly 30 percent suffered from or were at risk for disordered eating. In addition to ongoing eating disorders, Dr. Lauder’s study found that situational disordered eating and other dangerous behaviors involving weight loss often occurred in conjunction with specific events, such as physical fitness tests and weigh-ins, during which the women felt pressure to attain a physical standard. The study also found that 26 percent of military wives and 21 percent of teenagers from military families met the criteria for disordered eating.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Both of the aforementioned studies, as well as others conducted on the subject, have determined that military life can contribute to eating disorders and other dangerous associated behavior, including excessive use of laxatives and diuretics. The studies have invariably raised questions regarding military procedure, such as extensive testing of military personnel and whether or not this is the best approach to encouraging them to excel.

Eating disorders are serious conditions that may lead to tragic consequences, including ruined health and death. Eating disorders almost invariably stem from internal stress; treating the issues that are causing stress can help anyone suffering from an eating disorder to learn healthier and more effective ways of coping with stress.

If you would like help finding treatment for an eating disorder, please call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline today.