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The Student with an Eating Disorder

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa both involve significant perceptual distortions in body image and weight that lead to obsessive preoccupation with food, exercise, and body image.

Some characteristics of anorexia are not eating, a refusal to maintain minimally normal weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and denial of the dangers of low body weight.

Some characteristics of bulimia are recurrent binge eating followed by inappropriate behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, and enemas; fasting; and/or exercise.

Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse often coincide with eating disorders.

Symptoms associated with eating disorders include:

  • significant weight loss
  • fatigue
  • increased susceptibility to illness
  • obsession with food that interferes with life
  • extreme moodiness
  • social withdrawal
  • perfectionism.

Treatment of eating disorders usually combines medical procedures with counseling. In extreme cases, a student may need to leave campus and enter intense, inpatient treatment.

  • Speak to the student in private.
  • Be supportive and express concern for the student’s health.
  • Identify specific behaviors or symptoms that are of concern.
  • Refer the student to the Counseling Center, where therapists have expertise in assessment of and treatment related to disordered eating and body image.
  • Telling the student that her/his fears or perceptions are normal.
  • Trying to pressure the student into seeking help, since fear rarely motivates change.
  • Making positive comments about a student’s weight loss, since you may be encouraging unhealthy behavior.
  • Assuming that the family knows about the disorder.
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