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Eating Disorders: What You Need to Know

Eating Disorders: What You Need to Know

An eating disorder is a psychological disorder defined by the insufficient or excessive intake of food. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (self-starvation), bulimia (binging and vomiting) and binge eating (excessive eating without purging). Eating disorders are serious and can be fatal.

On Campus

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, there are many reasons to be concerned about eating disorders on college campuses. An extensive survey conducted in 2006 revealed that…

  • Nearly 20 percent of college students have suffered from an eating disorder.
  • Of the college students who admit to struggling with eating disorders, 75 percent of them never seek professional help.
  • More than 55 percent of college students know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder.

Warning Signs

It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between normal dieting and an eating disorder. It can also be hard to spot dramatic weight loss, gain or fluctuations that can be easily disguised under baggy clothes or layers of clothes.

General warning signs of an eating disorder are rapid weight loss or gain and a distorted body image. More specific warning signs:

  • Restrictive eating: strict adherence to rigid diets; frequently skipped meals; making excuses to get out of eating; obsession with calories; dieting even when thin
  • Bingeing: eating alone, at night or in secret; hiding food stashes; hoarding high-calorie food; disappearing food supplies; piles of empty food packages and wrappers
  • Purging: compulsive exercising; frequent trips to the bathroom, especially right after meals; unexplained vomiting; taking laxatives or diuretics; frequent fasting

Learn about other signs and symptoms of eating disorders.

Getting Help

Only a doctor can diagnose and treat an eating disorder. If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, the best way to handle it is to seek professional help right away—no one will judge you, and getting help is actually a sign of strength. It is possible to recover from an eating disorder.

Treatments for eating disorders typically include a combination of psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and support groups. Therapy will help you learn healthy habits and improve your self-image. Sometimes friends and family may benefit from counseling too. If the condition is severe, residential treatment or hospitalization may be required.

The National Eating Disorder Association provides a list of resources and support groups in your area. You can also call the hotline at 1-800-931-2237 for immediate information and help.

Helping a Friend

Worrying that a friend may have an eating disorder can be scary, but talking about it can be even scarier. But it’s important to address an eating disorder—without treatment, eating disorders only get worse, and they can be life-threatening.

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.

Whatever the treatment prescribed, 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.

Remember: eating disorders are not just about dieting. They are very personal and often involved complex emotions and fears. Anyone suffering from an eating disorder deserves support and understanding—especially if it’s you.


A College Epidemic: Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders: Mayo Clinic Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery

NEDA: National Eating Disorders Association