Counseling & Wellness Center

Eating Disorders

Some of the most common and troubling problems on college campuses are the eating disorders, bulimia and anorexia. In response to many requests from women students for treatment of eating disorders, our office has provided an Eating Disorders Treatment Group. Through the use of the group, many women have overcome serious eating disorders with the Counseling Center's help. (Men are also vulnerable to eating disorders, however, they infrequently seek treatment.)

Although eating disorders are distributed throughout the campus, the incidence is higher in some fields of academic study. Research at several universities nationwide has found that students in some majors, such as dance, theater, and physical education are at a greater risk for eating disorders. Women involved in cheerleading and athletics also tend to have an above-average rate of eating disorders. The reasons most often cited in these studies are the emphasis on meeting weight requirements and/or a certain body type and general appearance, and rigorous academic expectations by both the student and faculty. This can place tremendous pressure on students to conform to expectations which may be unreasonable or harmful to them.

It is not easy to determine that a woman is bulimic (binges and purges), because these individuals are often average body weight and exhibit no outward physical signs of their problem. However, these women are sometimes detected while purging (usually by vomiting). When confronted with their behavior, they may vigorously deny that they have a problem, and may refuse to seek help, despite the potentially life-threatening consequences of chronic purge behavior.

Anorexic (grossly underweight) women are easier to identify. Besides an obvious thin appearance, they may exhibit skin pallor, fatigue, depression, poor concentration, and social avoidance. Although women with anorexia are at an even greater health risk than their bulimic counterparts, they are also very reluctant to seek treatment for their problems.

Whatever the specific nature of the eating behavior, these disorders constitute significant health risks. As such, students with an eating disorder may be required by the University to seek consultation with a Counseling & Student Development Center staff member and/or Health Center physician.

If you become aware of a student who needs specialized help with an eating disorder, please contact our office for more information. Students are evaluated on an individualized basis and offered whatever services are deemed necessary, including consultation with a psychiatrist, the Health Center and parents. Eating disorders require hard work and patience, but they can be treated.

Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia nervosa (self-starvation) is triggered by emotional distress, problems in relationships, and/or dieting. It typically strikes those described as perfectionists and high achievers. Desperately needing a feeling of mastery over life, those with anorexia nervosa experience a sense of control only when they say "no" to the normal food demands of the body. In a relentless pursuit to be thin, anorexics starve themselves even though they are weak, hungry, and unhealthfully thin.

Anorexics lose weight by dieting--drastic dieting. Some abuse laxatives or vomit after they eat. Many exercise compulsively to burn off unwanted calories. Terrified of gaining weight, anorexics starve themselves in spite of constant hunger and obsessive thoughts about food. They value losing weight more than anything else in the world--more than friends, schoolwork, careers, family harmony, and fun.

Researchers find self-starvation in men and women of all ages, all ethnic backgrounds, and all socioeconomic groups. Before they become eating disordered, most anorexics are the best little boys/girls in the world. They are usually described as helpful, responsible, and conscientious. Well-behaved and eager to please, they hold in feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Because they believe they will be criticized and rejected if they are found lacking, they rarely ask for attention, expecting themselves to handle difficult problems without help.

Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa (the binge-purge syndrome) is also triggered by emotional distress, problems in relationships, and/or dieting. Most bulimics binge (a binge may be six cookies after a diet meal or 50,000 calories gobbled down in one to two hours) and then purge by making themselves vomit as soon as they have eaten. Some abuse laxatives, diuretics (water pills), and diet pills. Many exercise excessively to burn calories.

Bulimics, like anorexics, fear weight gain but lack the iron-clad control required by strict diets. After giving in to cravings for food, they feel guilty and panicky. Then they try to get rid of the calories they have eaten. When bulimics don't binge, they usually diet, making themselves hungry for sweet, starchy, and fatty foods. Prolonged hunger turns into powerful cravings that often lead to a binge. In response to hunger, about 50 percent of all anorexics become binge/purgers. Many binges are triggered by hunger plus anxiety, emotional distress, and problems in relationships.

Most bulimics try to be supermen/superwomen: A+ students, successful career people, supportive partners, competent parents, sexy lovers, efficient homemakers, good friends, and aware citizens. Concerned about how they look and what others think of them, they commit themselves to stern discipline and dieting. The time they spend binging may be the only time they spend on themselves.

Even though many bulimics appear independent and successful, they lack self-confidence and feel inadequate. For them, pleasing others and gaining approval are more important than pleasing themselves.

Both anorexia and bulimia are serious disorders that can lead to medical problems or death. Sufferers must understand that consulting a professional or entering a program is not a confirmation of inadequacy but rather a sign of maturity. Getting help demonstrates a desire to consider new solutions to old problems.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Excessive weight loss
  • Loss of menstrual period
  • Infertility
  • Dry, thin hair
  • Dry skin covered with downy fuzz
  • Brittle splitting nails
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Wasted muscles
  • Constipation
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Abdominal discomfort, bloating
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tremors
  • Cavities and gum disease
  • Depression and social isolation
  • Denial that anything is wrong
  • Kidney and bladder infections; urinary tract stones
  • Periods of frantic activity alternating with lethargy and depression

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Fainting spells
  • Sore throat and sinus infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Cavities and loss of tooth enamel
  • Tremors
  • Swollen glands in neck beneath jaw
  • Puffy, splotched face; bags under eyes
  • Dehydration
  • Broken blood vessels in eyes or face
  • Depression
  • Rapid or irregular heart beat
  • Stomach and abdominal discomfort
  • Blood sugar irregularities
  • Nausea, stomach cramps, ulcers, colitis
  • Muscle cramps and weakness
  • Stiffness or numbness in arms and legs
  • Problems with alcohol and other drugs
  • Weight changes because of alternating diets and binges
  • Shoplifting
  • Sexual promiscuity

Abraham, S. and Llewellyn-Jones, D. (1987). Eating Disorders: The Facts, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press

Attschal, A. M. (Ed.). (1987). Weight Control: A Guide for Counselors and Therapists. New York: Praeger.

Helping Someone With an Eating Disorder

  1. Discuss your concerns (about a person with an eating disorder) with a professional. Learn about eating disorders and available local resources. To help evaluate the situation before consulting a professional, contact the Counseling and Wellness Center at 871-2300.
  2. Talk to the person with an eating disorder. Keep the discussion informal and confidential. Focus on your concerns about health, not weight or appearance. Explain how the problem is affecting relationships. Mention that eating disorders can be treated successfully. If the person is able to acknowledge the problem, suggest some resources.
  3. Realize that you may be rejected. People with eating disorders often deny their problem because they're afraid to admit they're out of control. Don't take the rejection personally, and try to end the conversation in a way that will allow you to come back to the subject at another time.
  4. Know your limits. If you sense that you're getting angry or impatient, back off. Don't take on the role of counselor or food monitor--it's inappropriate and ineffective.

If a student would like to talk to someone in further detail about the specific resources available to him/her regarding eating disorders, contact the Counseling and Wellness Center.

The Counseling and Wellness Center is available to all students. The center's offices are located at the Crandall Center for Counseling and Health Services; the telephone number is 607-871-2300. The Health Center telephone number is 607-871-2400.

An Eating Disorder Support Group is available to provide emotional support as well as tools for the process of recovery. The following issues are addressed: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and compulsive overeating. For more information, call the Counseling and Wellness Center at 607-871-2300.

American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc.
165 W. 46th Street, Suite 1108, New York, NY 10036.
Telephone: 212-575-6200

Nat'l Associations of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
Telephone: 847-831-3438

Nat'l Anorexic Aid Society and Associated Disorders
Box 7, Highland Park, IL 60035
Telephone: 847-831-3438


For additional information on this, and other Mental Health Topics, contact:

Taken from "Eating Disorders" Brochure by American College Health Association, 1300 Piccard Drive, Suite 20850, Rockville, MD 20850.

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