Counseling Center

Eating disorders

The Student Who May Have an Eating Disorder

People with an eating disorder think about food, weight, and body shape in distorted ways. This leads to ways of eating and managing weight that

  • are harmful to the mind and the body–and can be deadly;
  • make it hard for the person to do the things he/she wants to do in classes, sports, and with friends and family;
  • make the person feel anxious and miserable most of the time;
  • are often upsetting to others.

Some of the warning signs of an eating disorder include:

  1. Marked increase or decrease in weight that is not related to a medical condition.
  2. Abnormal eating habits such as secretive bingeing, leaving for restroom to purge food after meals, absence in dining halls, eating peculiar combinations of food, etc.
  3. Intense preoccupation with dieting, weight and body image; this may be evidenced by frequently weighing self and constant criticism of body.
  4. Compulsive or excessive exercising, as evidenced by expressions of extreme guilt if the person doesn’t exercise; rigid routine unrelated to athletic training; exercising when injured, or negative effects in other areas of life (e.g. missing classes to exercise).
  5. Restrictive eating or purging through vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diet pills or diuretics.
  6. Emotional instability–moodiness, depression, loneliness, and/or irritability.

It is helpful to:

  • Establish trusting rapport with the student
  • Focus on specific behaviors that concern you. Behaviors are difficult to deny.
  • Express concern for the student in a caring, supportive and non-judgmental manner.
  • Do not get into a battle over whether or not the student should label the behavior an “eating disorder.” Focus on the negative consequences of the student’s actions and appeal to a desire to reduce or eliminate these negative consequences.
  • If you have information from a third party you may want to involve that person in the process. Roommates can be particularly informative with this problem.
  • The student may deny the problem. At this point you may want to consult with the counseling center staff. If the student’s behaviors appear to be life threatening, then definitely seek assistance.
  • Reassure the student that help is available and change is possible.
  • Try to get the student to make a commitment to contact a counseling and/or medical referral. If the student expresses reluctance, find out why and address the concerns.
  • Follow-up; show continued support; ask about the referral.

It is not helpful to:

  • Confront the student when you do not have privacy.
  • Argue with the student.
  • Give advice about weight loss, exercise, or appearance.
  • Attempt to force the student to eat.