Counseling Center

Eating and body image concerns

“I feel fat.” “I hate my body.”  “Food is the enemy.”  “I wish I could be as skinny as my roommate….”

Sound Familiar? These are phrases you may hear every day on our campus, and you may even utter them yourself. After you’ve heard these negative messages enough times, you may even start to feel that it’s “normal” to have an adversarial relationship with food and your body.

However, what’s normative (i.e., common) is not necessarily what’s healthy or psychologically adaptive! At the Counseling Center, we can help you sort through your questions and concerns about dieting, disordered eating, weight, and body image. It is possible to eat well, have a strong relationship with your body, and start spreading more positive messages about food and body on the UW Campus. It all starts with sorting out your own concerns about food and your body.

Who is at Risk for Eating Problems?

Many students, both male and female, have concerns about their eating, weight, body image, and exercise patterns. We live in a society that places an extremely high value on the achievement of physical “perfection,” and this often leads individuals to take drastic measures to change their physical appearance. Students who have a history of prolonged dieting or who are members of certain subcultures where weight may be restricted (e.g, runners, dancers, etc.) are particularly vulnerable to developing eating problems. People who experienced body-related teasing in childhood or were raised in families that placed a high value on a narrowly-defined physical ideal may also be at higher risk. Finally, anyone who sees their power and influence in the world as being strongly connected to weight or appearance will likely be at higher risk for developing conflicts around food and body image. Disordered eating and exercise behaviors place individuals at risk, both medically and psychologically.

Possible Symptoms:

  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”
  • For females, loss of menstrual periods
  • Unusual restriction of the types and amounts of food consumed
  • Repeated episodes of bingeing and purging after meals
  • Feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness
  • Use of laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Secrecy or ritualization around eating behaviors.

Eating concerns range from mild problems with food and weight to serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. Regardless of where you may fall on this continuum, resources are available to help you sort out these issues. The earlier a person with an eating concern seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.

How to Help a Friend. . .

If you are concerned that a friend may have an eating problem, please remember that help is available at the Counseling Center and the other resources listed below. The following suggestions may also help you support your friend.

  • Express your concerns in behavioral terms (e.g., “I’ve noticed you don’t come with us to meals anymore”).
  • Don’t feel as if you need to solve the problem; focus on listening instead.
  • Gently suggest counseling, and offer to accompany your friend to the first appointment.
  • If your friend is not responsive and you remain concerned about him/her, consider speaking to an R.A. about your concern or consult with a counselor at the Counseling Center.

What Can You Do to Help Prevent Eating Disorders?

  • Decide to avoid judging others and yourself on the basis of body weight or shape.
  • Become a critical viewer of the media and its messages about self-esteem and body image.
  • Send a strong message of acceptance in the way you talk about your own body and the way you approach food.
  • Do not engage in “hate speech” about your own or others’ bodies.
  • Consider seeking counseling to explore your attitude towards food and your body.

Campus Resources

Counseling Center
401 Schmitz Hall
(206) 543-1240
(short-term therapy and outreach presentations)

Hall Health Primary Care Center
Mental Health Clinic
(206) 543-5030
(individual & group therapy, medical evaluation)

The following resources contain useful information about eating disorders, chronic dieting, and body image.  When you click on the links below, you will leave the University of Washington’s web page.  The University does not manage or control web sites not owned by the University and is not responsible for content on such sites.  We encourage you to evaluate the materials and use what you find helpful.

Local Resources

National Eating Disorders Association
603 Stewart Street, Suite 803
Seattle, WA 98101
1-800-931-2237 Information & Referral Line

Web Resources

Eating Disorder Referral & Information Center

National Eating Disorders Association