Eating and Body Image

Eating disorders and/or disturbances in eating or eating-related behavior that impair a person’s physical health or psychosocial functioning. Disturbances in one’s eating habits can include restricting food intake, developing and maintaining strict dieting rules, and having a preoccupation with food. Disturbances related to weight control may include exercising excessively, self-induced vomiting, or misusing laxatives or diuretics. Eating disorders can occur in both males and females.  

The following are the most common eating disorders found in college students:

Anorexia Nervosa

Characterized primarily by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

Symptoms Include:

  • Inadequate food intake leading to significant weight loss
  • Intense fear of weight gain, obsession with size, and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain
  • Disturbance in self-image
  • Denial of the seriousness of low body weight

Health consequences include:  Heart failure, osteoporosis, muscle loss, and growth of lanugo (hair all over the body)

Bulimia Nervosa

Characterized primarily by a cycle of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, in an attempt to counteract the effects of binge eating.

Symptoms Include:

  • Regular intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating behavior
  • Use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting, and/or obsessive or compulsive exercise
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape

Health consequences include:  Heart failure, gastric rupture, tooth decay, rupture of the esophagus, and pancreatitis

Binge Eating Disorder

Characterized primarily by recurrent binge eating without regular use of compensatory measures.

Symptoms Include:

  • Frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time
  • Feeling out of control during the binge
  • Experiencing shame, guilt, and distress after the binge

Health consequences include:  Heart disease, type II diabetes melitus, gastric rupture, and gallbladder disease

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)

A feeding or eating disorder that causes significant distress or impairment but does not meet criteria for another feeding or eating disorder*.

Examples of OSFED include:

  • Atypical anorexia nervosa (weight is not below normal)
  • Bulimia nervosa (with less frequent behaviors)
  • Binge eating disorder (with less frequent occurrences)
  • Purging disorder (purging without binge eating)
  • Night eating syndrome (excessive nighttime food consumption)

*OSFED considered equally as severe as the other eating disorder diagnoses

Treatment of Eating Disorders

  • The most effective treatment typically involves some form of psychotherapy or counseling in addition to careful attention to medical and nutritional needs by trained professionals.
  • Treatment is most effective when eating disorders symptoms are addressed as well as the psychological, biological, nutritional, interpersonal, and cultural factors that contribute to or maintain the disorder.
  • Early diagnosis and intervention significantly enhance recovery.

If You Think You May Have an Eating Disorder

  • Make an appointment at PACS for an initial consultation with a counselor – please note that you may be referred to a provider off campus who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders.
  • Schedule an appointment at Health & Wellness and speak to the provider about your concerns.
  • Contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline by phone at (800) 931-2237 or on their website.

Tips for Mindful Eating

Shift Out of Autopilot Eating
What did you have for breakfast? Be honest. Many people eat the same thing day in and day out. Notice whether you are stuck in any kind of rut or routine.

Take Mindful Bites
Did you ever eat an entire plate of food and not taste a single bite? Bring all of your senses to the dinner table. Breathe in the aroma of a fresh loaf of bread. Notice the texture of yogurt on your tongue. Truly taste your meal. Experience each bite from start to finish.

Attentive Eating
Sure, you’re busy and have a lot “on your plate.” It’s hard to make eating a priority rather than an option or side task. If you get the urge for a snack while doing your homework or studying, stop and take a break so that you can give eating 100% of your attention. Try to avoid multitasking while you eat. When you eat, just eat.

Mindfully Check In
How hungry am I on a scale of one to ten? Gauging your hunger level is a little like taking your temperature. Each time you eat, ask yourself, “Am I physically hungry?” Aim to eat until you are satisfied, leaving yourself neither stuffed nor still hungry.

Think Mindfully
Observe how self-critical thoughts like “I don’t want to gain the Freshman Fifteen,” or “I’m so stupid, how could I do that?” can creep into your consciousness. Just because you think these thoughts doesn’t mean you need to act on them or let them sway your emotions. Negative thoughts can trigger overeating or stop you from adequately feeding your hunger.
Remember: A thought is just a thought, not a fact.

Mindful Speech
Chit chatting about dieting and weight is so commonplace that we are often truly unaware of the impact it might have on our self-esteem. When you are with friends and family, be mindful of your gut reaction to “fat talk” (e.g., “I’m so fat!” or the “I’m so fat – No you’re not” debate). Keep in mind how the words might affect someone struggling with food issues.

Mindful Eating Support
Friends provide an enormous amount of support, but often it’s helpful to obtain assistance or a second opinion from a trained professional. If you would like to learn more about mindful eating, or if you have concerns about your eating habits, call PACS, Health & Wellness, or consult the NEDA for information and treatment referrals.

Information adapted from National Eating Disorders Association.

 Printable pdf version