Counseling Center

Disordered Eating and Body Image

It can be difficult to detect the signs of an eating disorder, particularly as a student may appear physically healthy; also, potential symptoms such as dieting and body hatred are socially condoned and thus rendered unremarkable. It is important to remember that these behaviors and attitudes exist on a spectrum that is only “disordered” on the extreme end. However, it is also important to keep in mind that eating issues can spin out of control and may become dangerous; the risk of potentially offending someone by bringing up the subject may be worth the possibility that they’ll seek help with encouragement.

Recognize

  • Extreme or chronic dieting
  • Unusually thin and/or recent weight loss
  • Perfectionist and self-critical
  • Skips meals or restricts intake
  • Depression, anxiety, irritability, or moodiness
  • Change in attitude or performance
  • Fatigue or dizziness
  • Strange eating habits, e.g. carries own food, avoids eating with others, rigid or bizarre diet
  • Excessive or compulsive exercise
  • Unable to accept a compliment
  • Mood is affected by how they think they look
  • Constantly compares self to others
  • Self-disparaging
  • Attempts to create a “perfect” image
  • Seeks constant reassurance from others that their looks are acceptable
  • Distorted body image; e.g. overestimating the size of their body

Respond

  • In a direct and nonjudgmental manner, indicate the specific observations that have aroused your concern
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the student regarding their actions or attitudes
  • Focus on their health rather than their weight or appearance
  • Refrain from diagnosing or entering a battle of wills with the student
  • Invite the student to respond to your concerns
  • Avoid giving simple solutions, such as, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”
  • Be aware that the student may deny or minimize the problem
  • Encourage them to get help and offer your support, e.g. walk to the Counseling Center with them
  • If you remain concerned about their health, inform the student you need to speak with professional staff out of concern for their safety and call the Dean of Students Office 

Refer

On Campus (413-542-extension):

Off Campus: