… Although eating disorders affect 20 million women and ten million men in the United States each year, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), studies show a greater prevalence of some eating disorders among military service members.
A 2001 study published in Military Medicine found that, across four of the five military branches, female soldiers were likely to suffer from bulimia at nearly six times the rate of the general population—or 8.1 percent, compared to 1.5 percent of women and 0.5 percent of men—with higher numbers among female Marines (15.9 percent). The same study showed 1.1 percent of female soldiers suffered from anorexia and 62.8 percent suffered from eating disorders not otherwise specified (ED-NOS)—a rate slightly higher than that of civilian women.
Though it is the second smallest military branch, the Marines Corps is the first on the ground in most conflicts, often fighting some of the toughest battle situations of all segments. It also has one of the longest and most difficult training programs: 12 weeks of intense basic training followed by either a 59-day infantry or 29-day combat training course.
In a way, the military can create a perfect storm for triggering an eating disorder, says Dr. John Dolores, executive director of Center for Hope of the Sierras, a ten-bed residential eating disorder treatment center in Reno, Nevada. The emphasis on discipline, rank, and teamwork, combined with rule-based conducts, regimented eating, and grueling physical training mirrors the mindset often associated with eating disorders: a controlling, compulsive strive for perfectionism that thrives “under rules.”…