What is an eating disorder

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    Blog posted on : 02-12-2021

    What is an eating disorder

    An eating disorder is diagnosed when unhealthy eating habits, such as food restriction, binge eating, and purging, are sustained and severe enough to harm a person's physical and mental health. The most common eating disorders are:


    • Anorexia nervosa: Anorexia is characterized by severe food restriction, dangerously low body weight, extreme exercise, and a distorted body image.
    • Bulimia nervosa: Bulimia is characterized by out-of-control eating that is compensated for by purging, fasting, or extreme exercise designed to maintain weight.
    • Binge eating disorder: Someone having this type of eating disorder mostly consumes large amount of food in very short periods of time.

    Who is at risk?

    Young college-age women are at higher risk, but men are also affected. Between 10 and 20 percent of college-age women, and 4 to 10 percent of college-age men, have an eating disorder.

    Eating disorders can have a severe impact on physical health, with effects ranging from tooth decay to fatal heart attacks. Those with an eating disorder often struggle with isolation, depression, and anxiety, and many also engage in self-injurious behaviors such as cutting themselves. They are also significantly more likely to attempt suicide or commit suicide.


    Dieting may be a precursor to the disorder like this.   

    The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 35 percent of "normal" dieters progress to an unhealthy diet, which can include fad diets, fat, dairy, or gluten restriction, and more serious manifestations such as exercise. Excessively, abusing laxatives, bingeing or purging. Of these people, 20 to 25 percent develop eating disorders.

    Why are eating disorders common in college?

    College can be what experts call a "perfect storm" for eating disorders. Why?


    • New stressors: A major trigger for eating disorders occurs when old anxieties meet new pressures that are difficult to handle. A student coming from the supportive family life she had during high school may find the challenges of college life overwhelming: increased workload, less structure, an unfamiliar roommate. If you are battling pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or poor body image, the need to feel in control over a stressful environment can be channeled through food restriction, excessive exercise, and an unhealthy focus on body weight.
    • Social pressures: Making new friends and living with peers instead of parents for the first time is a long-awaited part of college life, but it can spell danger for young people who are at higher risk for developing eating disorders. If friends or roommates become obsessed with being overweight, or engage in dangerous behaviors like a rigorous diet or excessive exercise, it can be very easy to fall into that same pattern.
    • Lack of supervision: The independence that comes with living outside the home can also trigger eating problems. The college is famous for its midnight pizza deliveries, all-you-can-eat dining rooms, and the dreaded 15 pounds of freshman weight gain (known as "freshman 15"). An unhealthy diet can wreak havoc on self-esteem. Dangerous dieting behaviors that would have turned on the warning lights at home often go unnoticed in the chaos of college dorm life.

    What to watch out for

    Signs that someone might have an eating disorder:


    • Severe weight loss: Losing a lot of weight, especially in a short period of time.
    • Body image obsession: Constant concern about gaining weight, counting calories, or avoiding food ingredients that could "make you fat."
    • I hate the body: Worrying about how "fat" you are or comparing your body negatively with that of others.
    • Perfectionism: Taking the normal desire to do well and to look good to the extreme. You must get the highest rating, look flawless, or be first on the team.
    • Excessive exercise: Spending hours jogging on the treadmill to “burn off the calories” from a small snack you ate, or insisting on going for a run even when sick or in bad weather.
    • Avoid food: Skipping meals or parties where eating or drinking are the main event.
    • Hide and lie: Wear loose clothing to hide weight loss and always say that you have eaten too much breakfast or are "in too much of a hurry" to eat.

    How can you help someone having an eating disorder?

    If you see someone having some signs of eating disorder, please don't stay quiet. Talk to him about it. Having a conversation with him might be the first step to help him oor getting him out from this type of disorder.

    YES: Try to stay calm and not judge.

    DON'T: Focus on your appearance.

    YES: Focus on health. Let him know how worried you are and how dangerous his unhealthy behavior has become.

    DON’T: accuse or demand. Stay away from reproachful language such as "you have to stop or" you're making everyone worry, "which can make the person feel guilty or defensive.

    YES: Be honest and use first-person supportive phrases, such as, "I'm worried and I hope you'll let me help you." Or "I'm worried and I'm here to help you." "I want you to be safe."

    NO: Go back after the first conversation. To be helpful, you will need to be understanding and persistent.

    YES: Be prepared to listen, even if you don't like what you are hearing at first. People with eating disorders often deny that they have a problem or have mixed feelings about getting better. It is important to take your feelings into account and make them feel heard.

    YES: Encourage the person to undergo treatment. Research what treatment options are available and what are the best options.

    NO: Wait. Seeking treatment is the first step to recovery, and the sooner someone starts treatment, the better the outcome.

    Find help

    College campuses are required to provide some of the basic mental health services.


    College counseling centers: College counseling services are generally included in the cost of tuition and can be very good. They can also provide referrals for more specialized care if needed. Some schools may also have student-led eating disorder support groups or other helpful programs.


    Outside Professionals: While campus services can be very helpful, eating disorders often require more serious treatment than college counseling centers can provide.


    College Administrative Services: Some students may need to take time off to focus on treatment. If this is the case, parents and students can work with the university to discuss the best options.


    Online assistance

    Online communities can be excellent support resources for people struggling with eating disorders and their loved ones. Finding a place to get support or web based therapies or participate in real-life meetings can be a good way to boost recovery.