Eating Disorders
in the Military

Researchers from Uniformed Services University and Walter Reed Medical Center report eating disorders affect approximately 2.7% of service members. While examining eating disorders in the military, researchers from Florida State University determined the following:


Approximately 20% to 29.6% of female cadets are at risk of developing eating disorders in the military, compared to 10% to 16% of female civilians.
In male cadets, the risk of developing an eating disorder ranges from 2% to 7%.
The average prevalence of binge eating is 19.3% among female cadets and active service members, compared to 12% to 16.2% among female civilians.

Contributing Factors of Eating Disorders in
the Military

Active military members and veterans face the same struggles with eating disorders just as civilians. . Both male and female service members can develop anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder or other eating disorders at any time.

Physical Fitness Requirements

The United States Military has strict weight and fitness standards. Cadets must pass a thorough physical fitness assessment before attending basic training and continue their conditioning as active-duty service members. Service members may restrict food intake, abuse diet pills, engage in excessive exercise or display other disordered eating behaviors to maintain fitness requirements.

Attempts to alter physical appearance increase the risk of developing an eating disorder that can result in malnutrition, making it difficult to preserve mental health when lacking mental clarity and physically fatigued.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In some people, eating disorders develop due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition caused by exposure to trauma such as combat. Exposure to trauma during military service increases an individual’s risk of developing an eating disorder and may contribute to other mental health conditions.

Military sexual trauma is also a major contributor to PTSD that occurs due to service-related sexual harassment or sexual assault. It may lead to nightmares, feelings of emotional numbness, sleep problems, irritability, or anger issues. Individuals may cope by drinking excessively or using drugs to numb their emotional pain.

Stress Associated With Military Life

Military life is stressful. Active-duty service members are separated from their families and live under harsh conditions. They also must follow strict regimens, from wake-up times to daily activities.

Eating disorder behaviors may develop as an attempt to increase feelings of control in their lives. This can create a false sense of control, provide a consistent focal point when other areas of life feel chaotic, reduce feelings of boredom, and provide a sense of accomplishment by achieving goals.

Benefits of Treatment

Personalized Care

All treatment plans are customized to meet your unique needs, giving you the tools you need to avoid relapse.

Improved Physical Health

Eating disorder treatment allows you to work with a registered dietitian to develop an individualized meal plan to address malnutrition and begin restoring your physical health through appropriate nutrition and medical oversight.

Increased Understanding of Your Needs

Residential settings can help you better understand your diagnosis with resources like educational and progress groups, experiential activities for improved self-awareness, and trauma therapy in structured environments.

Better Mental Health

Getting your eating disorder under control can help reduce the risk of other mental health conditions, improving your psychological well-being.

Professional Support

It’s difficult to recover from an eating disorder on your own. Through residential treatment, you can access a team of experienced, compassionate professionals.

Peer Relationships

In a professional treatment setting, you can connect with people who understand precisely what you’re going through.

Do I Have an Eating Disorder?

Are you concerned about the eating habits you developed as a cadet or active-duty service member?
Click below to take our eating disorders quiz.

How Treatment Works

When you arrive at the treatment center, you’ll undergo a thorough examination designed to assess your physical and psychological health. Based on the results of this exam, your treatment team will begin nutrition therapy, and if needed, provide medical stability before you begin participating in therapy and other services. If you have any other mental health disorders, such as depression or PTSD, your treatment provider may recommend antidepressants or other medications to treat your symptoms.

While you’re in residential treatment, you will participate in a variety of groups: emotional, educational, experiential and , support group meetings. Additionally, the level of monitoring, structure and support from the staff can help you manage your symptoms and gain insight into the root causes of how eating disorders develop.

Next Steps

If you have symptoms of any eating disorders, the next step is contacting Virtue Recovery Center to schedule your admission. Click below to learn more about our eating disorder program for veterans.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of the most common symptoms of eating disorders include a sudden change in eating habits, the development of rituals around eating, preoccupation with weight and body size, difficulty eating around others and extreme mood swings.
Service members are known to have high levels of stress. In some cases, stress is due to the effects of PTSD, which is caused by trauma. It’s also stressful to move frequently and have to spend time away from loved ones. All of these stressors can affect a service member’s mental health.

PTSD is one of the risk factors for eating disorders. Research shows that people with PTSD and other mental health conditions are more likely than the general population to develop eating disorders.

Yes. It’s important for service members to include loved ones in their treatment, as family relationships have a significant impact on stress levels and coping skills.
In addition to seeking private treatment, veterans can reach out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for more information about eating disorders.