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College Students: Eating Disorders

Warning Signs

Mental and Behavioral Signs:

  • dramatic weight loss/weight gain

  • concern about eating in public

  • worried about weight, food, calories, or dieting (panic attacks, anxiety)

  • excuses to avoid mealtime/tries to avoid being around during mealtime (doesn't feel well, etc)

  • patterns of binge eating and purging after meals

  • severely limiting and restricting the amount and types of food consumed

  • refusing to eat certain foods

  • denying feeling hungry

  • expressing a need to “burn off” calories

  • repeatedly weighing oneself

  • intense fear of weight gain/scared they will be considered overweight

  • excessively exercising/obsessed with losing weight

  • cooking meals for others without eating

  • missing menstrual periods (in people who would typically menstruate)

  • complaints of constipation, cold intolerance, abdominal pain, lethargy, or excess energy

  • dressing in layers to hide weight loss

Physical Signs:

  • stomach pain/vomiting

  • stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal symptoms

  • difficulty concentrating/focusing

  • atypical lab test results (anemia, low thyroid levels, low hormone levels, low potassium, low blood cell counts)

  • fainting

  • consistent slow heart rate

  • dizziness

  • sleep irregularities

  • menstrual irregularities

  • dry skin

  • dry, thin nails

  • thinning hair

  • muscle weakness

  • poor wound healing from weakened systems

  • calluses across the tops of the finger joints (a sign of inducing vomiting)

Signs Specific To College Students:

  • sudden change in grades/academics

  • loss of interest in activities/hanging with friends

  • avoids mealtime/eating with friends/at dorm

  • sudden changes in attitude, mood, or performance

  • expresses body image complaints/concerns: being too fat even though normal or thin

  • unable to accept compliments; mood affected by thoughts about appearance

  • low self esteem/sees self as less than others

  • constantly compares self to others; self-disparaging; refers to self as fat, gross, ugly

  • body image issues; strives to create a “perfect” image

  • seeks constant outside reassurance about looks/views other peoples opinions as higher than own

  • seems sad / depressed / anxious / ashamed / embarrassed / expresses feelings of worthlessness

  • seems/acts emotionless / lacks emotion

  • not able to accept anything less than perfect on appearance, academics, social life, etc

  • target of body weight bullying in past or current

  • spends a lot of time alone, especially when this isn't the norm for them

  • maintains unhealthy eating habits to enhance performance in sports, clubs, modeling, or dance

  • constant feeling of bloated/being full

  • bloodshot eyes/dark circles around eyes

  • constantly fatigued and tired/drowsy 

  • pretends to eat, then throws away food/skips meals

  • very fidgety when eating; trouble sitting still, moving legs and arms, shows anxiety, gets up and walks around instead of eating meal

  • makes lists of foods and calories eaten each day and takes it very seriously

  • wears baggy clothes or clothes sizes to big to cover weight loss/body change

  • works through lunch, avoids cafe/cafeteria, eats alone

  • denies difficulty with body image or self esteem, even though there is evidence for concern

Myths About Eating Disorders

Myth 1

Myth: Eating disorders are all about food.
Truth: While eating disorders generally involve food, an obsession with calories or an addiction to losing weight or changing shape, these illnesses are more biological, psychological and sociocultural than just about food. Restriction, bingeing, purging or over-exercise behaviors usually signify an attempt to control something of substance in the individual’s life. Because friends and family mistakenly believe that eating disorders are just about food, they will often encourage their loved ones to “just eat more,” “just eat less,” or “just eat healthier” to be “cured” of this illness. In reality, these disorders often require a combination of medical, psychiatric, therapeutic and dietary intervention to achieve full recovery, as eating more or less is not a solution to those suffering.

Myth 2

Myth: Only women suffer from eating disorders

Truth: While research shows that women suffer from eating disorders at much higher rates than men, eating disorders do also occur in men and boys as well. While men used to represent about 7-8 percent of individuals with eating disorders, a recent Harvard study found that 20-25 percent of individuals with eating disorders are men. The stigma that surrounds men with eating disorders is large and it sadly often leaves men feeling embarrassed or judged, which often prevents them from reaching out for help and support. It's important for all of us to realize that eating disorders can affect any one of us and we must support all those who struggle with an eating disorder.

Myth 3

Myth: All people with an eating disorder are very skinny.
Truth: This is probably the most common myth out there, especially within colleges. While anorexia and other eating disorders are characterized by extreme weight loss, many people struggling with other eating disorders like binge eating disorder and bulimia are often of normal weight. The stigma that surrounds eating disorders, the lack of knowledge and education, and the misconception some have all work together to delay treatment and may result in misdiagnosis for some individuals. Being very thin doesn't mean you have an eating disorder, just as someone with normal weight or even overweight may have a disorder. 
Unfortunately, many professionals and researchers state that many healthcare experts lack eating disorder exposure and training, which highlights the important role of eating disorder education and awareness to ensure effective diagnosis and early intervention.

Myth 4

Myth: Recovery from eating disorders is rare.
Truth: Recovery is definitely possible. Eating disorders are very complex and every disorder is very different and each individual suffering experiences it differently, but recovery is very possible. With eating disorder recovery, it may take a few months or even a few years, and relapse may happen, but with treatment, many people do recover. We believe in you, you got this! ♥️ 

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