Unfortunately, many young women suffer with eating disorders today, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. A recent study indicates many individuals who suffer with eating disorders also engage in self-injurious behavior, such as cutting or burning.
The research study was conducted at the School of Medicine at Stanford University and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. The study was conducted by Rebecka Peebles, MD, and a professor in pediatrics at the time of the research, and Jenny Wilson, MD, who was a pediatrics resident during the research period. The researchers examined the intake evaluations of 1,432 individuals admitted to the hospital for eating disorders between January 1997 to April 2008. Individuals whose records were examined were between the ages of 10 and 21 years old. Slightly over 90% of the patients were female, 75% were white, and the average age of the patients was 15 years old.
The researchers discovered nearly 41% of the individuals possessed documented cases of self-injurious behavior with cutting and burning being the two most common intentional self-harm behaviors. The average age of those who engaged in self-harm was 16 years of age. They also found that 85.2% of those who engaged in self-harm were cutting themselves. Additionally, the researchers discovered that 26% of those who engaged in self-harm also binged and 52.8% engaged in purging behavior.
The researchers expressed concern at the fact that less than half of the charts they examined for the study documented that the patient had been asked if he or she had purposely hurt himself or herself. Furthermore, most of the individuals who were asked about self-injury were those who had either had a history of self-injury or those who fit the typical profile of someone who self-injures in that the individual was an older, white female who struggled with substance abuse or bulimia nervosa. Peebles asserted, “If patients aren’t asked, they are unlikely to volunteer such information. The question is, ‘Are we missing other kids who are not meeting this profile?;”
According to Karen Contario and Wendy Lader, PhD., self-harm is the, “deliberate mutilation of the body or a body part, not with the intent to commit suicide but as a way of managing emotions that seem too painful for words to express.” Some common forms of self-injurious behavior include cutting, burning, interfering with the healing of wounds, hair pulling, skin picking, bone-breaking, and hitting oneself with hard objects, according to Healthy Place.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by episodes of binge eating and purging behavior that occur on average twice a week for the duration of three months or longer. Binge eating is defined as eating a significantly larger amount of food during any given period of time (two hours) than most individuals would eat under similar circumstances. Binge eating is also constituted by an individual feeling a lack of control over one’s eating during this period of time. Individuals suffering from bulimia also utilize inappropriate compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as misusing laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or enemas, self-induced vomiting, fasting, and/or excessive exercise. Individuals with this eating disorder also base their self-worth on their weight or body shape.
If you suspect someone you love has an eating disorder or is engaging in self-injury, please encourage him or her to seek help from a mental health professional.
You can read more about this study in the on-line Journal of Adolescent Health, where it was published on October 8.
Psych Central: Eating Disorders Linked to Self-Harm:
Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel:
Medical Criteria: DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for Bulimia Nervosa:
Contario, K., Lader, W. (1998). Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers. Hyperion: New York.