Health & Wellness Promotion

Eating Disorders

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious and potentially fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. There are also other specified eating disorders that can encompass any combination of symptoms from the three most common types.

Who can Eating Disorders affect?

Eating Disorders affect females and males of any background, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or social group. People from preteens to seniors may have eating disorders. Athletes may also be prone to eating Disorders or Disordered Eating due to their rigid exercise schedules and because of the expectation that they eat “differently”. Families, loved-ones and communities are also affected by the eating disorder of an individual as it can disrupt their own health and well-being.

Eating Disorders vs Disordered Eating

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-Text Revision), disordered eating is defined as "a wide range of irregular eating behaviors that do not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder." The most significant difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is whether or not a person's symptoms and experiences align with the criteria defined by the American Psychiatric Association. Disordered eating is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis.

Signs and symptoms of disordered eating may include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic yo-yo dieting
  • Frequent weight fluctuations
  • Extremely rigid and unhealthy food and exercise regimen
  • Feelings of guilt and shame when unable to maintain food and exercise habits
  • Pre-occupation with food, body and exercise that causes distress and has a negative impact on quality of life
  • Compulsive or emotionally-driven eating
  • Use of compensatory measures, such as exercise, food restriction, fasting and even purging or laxative use to “make up for” food consumed

Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Unhealthy obsession with personal appearance, food, calories, weight
  • Abusive use of diet pills, laxatives, detox regimens
  • Irrational fear of gaining weight or being fat
  • Excessive/rigid exercise habits
  • Withdrawal from friends or activities
  • Develops food rituals like playing with food on plate, chewing excessively
  • Denial of food and eating problems despite the concerns of others 

What You Can Do

Whether you think you, or a friend, may be struggling from an eating disorder or disordered eating, getting professional help is always the first step to recovery. That may be scary for some, but seeking professional help is a huge sign of personal strength and you will only be respected for your courage to do what’s best for your body and your health.

On campus, CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) may be the best first step to take as they can provide group or individual counseling on a variety of concerns including eating concerns. CAPS is located in Walker Plaza, suite 220. More contact information and hours for CAPS are listed at their website.

If the health of an individual is severely at risk, hospitalization may be required. If you suspect someone you care about has an eating disorder, pick a time to talk privately and try not to be confrontational. You might even want to plan what you say ahead of time. Here are some suggestions:

  • Discuss specific situations where you’ve been concerned about the person’s eating behavior.
  • Avoid placing shame or blame. Use “I” statements, such as “I’m concerned that you’ve skipped meals for the last two days” or “I don’t know what to do when I hear you vomiting.”
  • Make it clear that you really care and want to help.
  • Leave yourself open to be a supportive friend and a good listener.
  • Don’t give up if a person denies everything or tunes you out. Keep trying.

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time. To support a friend or loved one, you can:

  • Learn as much about eating disorders as you can
  • Provide encouragement every step of the way
  • Praise small steps in the right direction
  • Stay positive through setbacks
  • Set a good example