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Body Image & Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

A person with an eating disorder has a difficult physical and/or emotional relationship with eating, food, and body image. He or she may spend a lot of time thinking about weight, eating, food, and body image, and may be extremely afraid of gaining weight. This may affect a person's sense of well-being and his or her relationships with others.

One form of an eating disorder is when a person restricts their diet - eating very little or eating only certain foods. Restricting may result in imbalances in body chemistry, fatigue, dry skin and hair, missed periods, malnutrition, and digestive problems. Low body weight might lead to other serious medical problems. Typically, this person believes they are overweight, even if they are under nourished. This is called Anorexia.

Some people may over-eat and then try to eliminate the calories or food by vomiting, using laxatives, over exercising, or other types of purging. Purging may result in imbalances in body chemistry, damage to teeth and throat, dehydration, and stomach problems. This is called Bulimia.

Others cannot tell when they have eaten enough. They may have a powerful urge to continue eating even if they are full. These behaviors may result in extreme weight gain. This may indicate Compulsive Eating.

What about Body Image?

Body image encompasses thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors that are related to how you perceive your physical self. Many people go through life struggling with concerns about their body image. Spending all your time thinking about these things doesn't leave you much time to think about anything else.

Worried about eating disorders?

If you think that you, a friend, or a roommate may have an eating disorder, it may be useful to know signs that some people may experience:

  • Constantly weighing, measuring, judging the body.
  • Using laxatives to eliminate meals or calories.
  • Vomiting frequently, particularly after meals.
  • Exercising because you have to, not because you want to.
  • Anxiety in public because you feel you just don't look right, too fat or too thin.
  • Bite marks on fingers, puffy cheeks and/or eyes, extreme or frequent weight loss or gain.
  • Stomach problems.
  • Loss of menstrual cycle.
  • Constant worry about food, eating, counting calories.
  • Mood is dependent on the day's eating.
  • Constant comparison of how you look to others, such as thin celebrities.
  • Sadness and/or discontent with your physical shape, size, or other attributes.
  • Not feeling satisfied, no matter how much you eat.
  • Desperation - you can never be perfect enough.

Who is affected by eating disorders?

More than 7 million women and 1 million men in America have eating disorders. They are common on college campuses. Some students come to college struggling with food, while others develop problems with food or body image during the college years.

The good news is that with treatment and support, people with eating or body image problems can have healthy relationships with food and self.

Additional Resources:

National Association of Anorexia
Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

National Eating Disorders Association:

Overeaters Anonymous:

Something Fishy - Website on Eating Disorders:

Helping End Eating Disorders:

Resources to Support Eating Disorders Recovery: