Eating & Body Image

Many college students struggle with their body image and self esteem. For some students, their preoccupation with food, weight gain (or loss), and physical appearance can lead to eating disorders.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions requiring treatment by health care professionals. There are three primary types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

  • Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. 
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified and is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.
  • Bulimia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or laxative use designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Signs of a Problem

  • A marked increase or decrease in weight not related to a medical condition
  • The development of abnormal eating habits such as dieting, preference for strange foods, withdrawn or ritualized behavior at mealtime, or secretive eating/binging
  • An intense preoccupation with weight and body image
  • Compulsive or excessive exercising
  • Self-induced vomiting, periods of fasting, or laxative, diet pill or diuretic abuse
  • Feelings of isolation, depression, or irritability
  • Distorted body image
  • Labeling foods as “good” or “bad”

Think you might have an eating disorder? Take a free, confidential screening by clicking here.

How to Help a Friend with an Eating Disorder

  • Learn as much as you can about eating disorders. Read books, articles, brochures and check out web sites.
  • Know the difference between facts and myths about nutrition and exercise. Knowing the facts will help you reason against inaccuracies that your friend may be using as excuses to maintain the disordered eating patterns.
  • Be honest. Talk openly and honestly about your concerns with the person who is struggling with eating or body image issues. Avoiding or ignoring the issue won’t help.
  • Be caring, but be firm. Caring about your friends does not mean being manipulated by them. Your friend must be responsible for his/her actions and their consequences.
  • Avoid using guilt and threats to get your friend to change. These strategies usually backfire and lead to resentment and lack of trust.
  • Expect some resistance. Changing is hard and people with disordered eating and body image are often invested in their behavior.
  • Don’t give up. It may take a very long time before someone is ready to change.
  • Seek guidance and help. It is often helpful to speak to a mental health professional who can consult with you about how to best help your friend and help you deal with your own feelings.

10 Ways to Improve Body Image

(taken from writings by Michael Levine, Ph.D and Linda Smolak, Ph.D)

  1. Ask yourself, “Am I benefiting from focusing on what I believe are the flaws in my body weight and shape?”
  2. Think of three reasons why it is ridiculous for you to believe that thinner people are happier or “better.” Repeat these reasons to yourself whenever you feel the urge to compare your body shape to someone else’s.
  3. Spend less time on front of mirrors—especially when they are making you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious about your body.
  4. Exercise for the joy of feeling your body move and grow stronger. Do not exercise simply to lose weight, purge fat from your body, or to “make up for” calories you have eaten.
  5. Participate in activities you enjoy, even if they call attention to your weight and shape. Remind yourself that you deserve to do things you enjoy, like dancing, swimming, etc., no matter what your shape or size
  6. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel comfortable in your body.
  7. List 5-10 good qualities that you have, such as sense of humor, understanding, intelligence, or creativity. Repeat these to yourself whenever you start to feel bad about your body.
  8. Practice taking people seriously for what they say, feel, and do, not for how slender or “well put together they appear.”
  9. Surround yourself with people and things that make you feel good about yourself and your abilities! When you are around people and things that support you and make you feel good, you will be less likely to base your self-esteem on the way your body looks.
  10. Treat your body with respect and kindness. Feed it, keep it active, and listen to its needs. Remember that your body is the vehicle that will carry you throughout your entire life.