Body Image and Eating Disorders


What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders are serious health conditions that can be both physically and emotionally devastating. Eating disorders affect women and men of every age, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Eating disorders arise from a combination of long-term psychological, interpersonal, genetic and social conditions. Feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety and loneliness, as well as troubled family and personal relationships, may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. The unrelenting idealization of thinness in our culture is often a contributing factor.

Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder:

1.     A significant increase or decrease in weight that is not related to a medical condition.

2.     The development of abnormal eating habits, such as severe dieting, withdrawn or ritualized behavior at mealtimes, or secretive bingeing.

3.     An intense preoccupation with weight and body image.

4.     Compulsive or excessive exercising.

5.     Self-induced vomiting, fasting, or laxative, diet pill or diuretic abuse.

6.     Feelings of isolation, depression or irritability.

Common Eating Disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa: Characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.


  • Refusal to maintain a body weight that is at or above a minimally normal weight for height and age.

  • Intense fear of weight gain, even when underweight.

  • Disturbance in perceived body weight or shape, or denial of seriousness of low body weight.

  • Loss of 3 consecutive menstrual periods.

Bulimia Nervosa: Characterized by a cycle of binge eating and purging by means of self-induced vomiting.


  • Regular intake of large amounts of food, accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating behavior.

  • Regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors, including self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting, or excessive exercise.

  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape.

Binge Eating Disorder: Characterized by recurrent binge eating, without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter binge eating.


  • Frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time.

  • Feeling out of control over eating behavior.

  • Eating when not hungry and eating in secret.

Eating Disorders vs. Disordered Eating

When an individual does not fit the clinical description of an eating disorder, they may be engaged in disordered eating. Disordered eating occurs when a person’s attitudes about food, weight and body size and shape may be causing them to have very strict eating and exercise habits that jeopardize their health, happiness and safety. Disordered eating may begin as a way to lose a few pounds, but these behaviors can quickly become obsessions and may even become a full-blown eating disorder.

What can I do to Prevent Eating Disorders?

1.     Increase you knowledge and awareness of eating disorders in order to challenge judgmental or mistaken attitudes about food, body shape and eating disorders.

2.     Challenge the notion that a particular body weight or shape will automatically lead to happiness or fulfillment.

3.     Be a good role model in your attitudes about food, body image and weight-related issues. Avoid making negative comments about your body or other’s.

4.     Increase your awareness of how our society and culture influences your beliefs and attitudes about your body and others.

5.     Learn about the importance of eating a variety of foods and participating in moderate exercise.  Avoid categorizing any foods as “good” or “bad.”

6.     Make yourself a priority.  Eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise for enjoyment and interact with people you love and enjoy being with.

7.     Equate respect for diverse weights and shapes with respect for diversity in race, gender, ethnicity and intelligence.

How to Help a Friend

If you are worried about a friend’s eating behaviors or attitudes, then it is appropriate for you to express your concerns in a supportive way.  It is important to discuss your concerns early on and not keep this a secret for fear of making your friend angry or getting them into trouble.  Other people in their life need to know so they can encourage them to get help.

In a calm manner, discuss the specific things you see or feel.  Share examples of when you felt concerned, afraid or uneasy because of their eating or exercise habits.  Offer to accompany them to the campus Counseling Center if you think they need professional help.

Source:  National Eating Disorders Association