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University Counseling Center

The Student Who May Have an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders represent complex physiological and psychological difficulties, which are typically characterized by unhealthy and/or obsessive thoughts and behaviors linked to food, eating habits, and body image. Although, many college students struggle with disordered eating patterns and body image concerns, dancers and athletes are especially at risk. The two most serious eating disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia, can be health and/or life threatening. Anorexia can best be characterized by voluntary self-starvation; whereas Bulimia is a disorder in which the individual becomes entrapped in a vicious cycle of alternating food binges and purges (i.e. vomiting, laxative abuse, excessive exercise). While individuals struggling with Anorexia are usually severely underweight, those struggling with Bulimia are often normal weight, or even overweight. These disorders often become the major preoccupying theme in an individual’s life, causing numerous interpersonal and medical problems, and often interfering with his/her academic and/or work performance.

Due to the opportunities that faculty and staff have to observe and interact with students in classrooms and the student lounge, you are often the first to recognize that a student may be struggling with an eating disorder. Look for a pattern of indicators, such as:

  • Obsession with food/dieting
  • Low self-esteem
  • Ritualistic behavior around food
  • Distorted body image
  • Extremely regimented life
  • Excessive exercise
  • Perfectionist expectations of self
  • Binging/purging
  • Excessive dental/medical problems
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating/focusing
  • 15% weight loss (Anorexia)
  • Isolation/withdrawal from friends
  • Secretive eating

What You Can Do:

  • Let the person with an eating disorder know that you are concerned about him/her
  • Remember a person with an eating disorder is just that – first a person, and secondarily, one who has trouble with food
  • Be available to listen – one of the best ways to help someone gain control over eating is to reach out as a friend instead of focusing on his/her eating behavior
  • Be supportive and encourage the person to get help
  • Call the Counseling Center to discuss the best way to help this person


  • Spy on the person or nag about eating/not eating
  • Hide food to keep the person from binging
  • Let yourself be convinced that the person really doesn’t have a problem
  • Be afraid to let the person know that you are concerned about him/her

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