Students Vulnerable to Eating Disorders
Recognizing Eating Disorders
“Yes to Health, No to EDs” Student CampaignThe “Yes to Health, No to EDs" Student Campaign is directed to students in whom eating disorders are particularly prevalent. Adolescents and young adults are the most susceptible age group for eating disorders, and if left untreated, can develop into lifelong illnesses and cause premature death.
The Campaign establishes a working relationship with Counseling Services at elementary and high schools, colleges and universities to provide counselors with the resources for educating students about eating disorders and the guidance on how to help students with eating disorders. Through the program, counselors can receive resources, training, and on-going assistance from N.A.M.E.D.
Free registration to the “Yes to Health, No to EDs" Student Campaign ensures that NAMED will stay in contact with your school’s counseling center to receive newsletters and information updates. School counselors can register your school by e-mailing Chris@NAMEDinc.org with the following information: name, job title, department, school name, e-mail address, mailing address, phone number, alternative contact name and phone number. If you are a student who would like your school to register, e-mail Chris@NAMEDinc.org the name and contact information for a school counselor (also indicate the school name), so Chris can contact him or her.
In a March 2010 survey of higher education professionals by the Eating Recovery Center and the Enrollment and Retention Services Division of EducationDynamics the following trends were revealed:
1. Eating disorders on college campuses in the U.S. are
increasing in prevalence
2. Students are unwilling to seek treatment
3. Many campuses lack the resources to help students with
According to a poll by the National Eating Disorders Association (N.E.D.A.) in 2006 that polled 1,002 college students anonymously, 19.6% of them reported having an eating disorder. Of the nearly 20% reporting an eating disorder, 75% claimed they never had received treatment. 55.3% of those polled reported they know someone who suffers from an eating disorder.
The Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University claims as many as one in four female college students has an eating disorder.
Mia Holland, a professor at Capella University in Massachusetts had her students research what colleges were doing to help students with their eating disorders. A stunning 80% of respondents from colleges denied there was a problem with eating disorders. This underscores the need to reach out to colleges with the "Yes to Health, No to EDs" Student Campaign.
STUDENTS VULNERABLE TO EATING DISORDERS
There are many reasons why students are especially vulnerable to eating disorders.
"The two major life transitions that most commonly contribute to the onset of an eating disorder are puberty and leaving for college," explains Dr. Kenneth L. Weiner, M.D., founding partner and medical director of the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, CO.
Adolescents and young adults are discovering their identities - who they are, what they want to do with their life in a career. Additionally, some deal with sexual orientation and gender identity issues. While the search for self can be exciting, it is also fraught with anxiety and ambivalence.
As students go off to college, they are beset with new responsibilities, which become the source of added stress. Many students have to balance jobs with school work and may additionally have family responsibilities. There is the pressure to receive good grades and keep up with the academic work load.
Those who leave home for the first time suddenly are responsible for buying and cooking for themselves or choosing what to eat from college cafeterias or kiosks. They may restrict their eating or over eat or make poor food choices. They may develop unhealthy attitudes and behaviors over food and dieting.
Adolescents and young adults are especially self-conscious of what their appearance at a time in their life when they are looking for a lifelong mate. Their obsession with appearance and fitness may lead them to develop eating disorders and obsessions with exercising.
Adolescents and young adults are more willing than others to engage in experimental and risky behaviors, such as fad diets and other harmful weight reduction measures. They think they are invincible, but they are not.
Furthermore, college campuses can be breeding grounds for eating disorders as students discuss amongst themselves their dissatisfaction with their body image and how to lose weight, and in turn, practice the dieting behaviors they talk about. Dieting becomes the "in" thing to do and those who lose the most weight are the most admired. While eating disorders are not contagious in the way the flu is contagious, people are certainly influenced by what others say and do, peer pressure, and the media. That's why it is so important to exhibit healthy attitudes and behaviors about body image, food, weight, and exercise.
RECOGNIZING EATING DISORDERS
It is difficult to notice the physical signs of people with eating disorders from a casual observation, unless the person is underweight due to anorexia nervosa. Bulimics tend to fluctuate 10 – 20 pounds within a normal weight range, and binge eaters usually are overweight.
See the “Symptoms” page of this website for a detailed description of the signs of an eating disorder. The symptoms presented here are the physical, behavioral, and attitudinal characteristics that will be most observable.
- Anorexics appear underweight and bingers may be overweight
- Anorexics may complain of being cold when temperature is comfortable
- An anorexic's skin may appear dry and their hair and nails brittle
- Bulimics may have puffiness in the cheeks resulting from swollen salivary glands, broken blood vessels under the eyes, and bruises on the knuckles from forced and frequent vomiting
- Bulimics may complain of sore throat, chest pain, muscle ache, and fatigue
- The teeth of bulimics who vomit will appear yellowish, grayish, and spotted due to tooth decay
Attitudinal and Behavioral Symptoms:
Experience wide range of negative emotions, including depression, anxiety, guilt, self-loathing, irritability, etc.
Avoid social events involving food
Constantly talk about food, calories, weight, exercise and/or appearance
- Anorexics tend to be perfectionists
- Anorexics usually withdraw and isolate themselves from others
- Anorexics will restrict their food intake and make excuses for not eating or only eating small amounts
- Anorexics may exhibit odd food rituals, such as moving food around on plate without eating it or refusing to eat certain foods
- Anorexics may dress in baggy or layered clothes to keep warm and to hide their thinness despite taking pride in it
- Anorexics and bulimics may take diuretics and laxatives, fast, and may obsessively exercise
- Bulimics will frequent the bathroom after meals
- While anorexics have difficulty making decisions, bulimics tend to be impulsive, so there is an increased risk to act out sexually and to abuse alcohol and drugs
- Bulimics may hoard food for later binges
- Bingers who are overweight typically avoid recreational activities that may involve physical activity or that may expose parts of their body (such as swimming)
- Bingers usually binge in private, and may eat only small amounts in public
- Be informed about eating disorders and be prepared to refer a student to an eating disorder therapist.
Be willing to ask a student if he or she has an eating disorder, assuring him or her that your discussion is confidential. If a student admits to an eating disorder, reassure the person that he is not alone with the illness, show understanding and empathy, provide him informational handouts, encourage the person to seek treatment, and provide referrals. Explain that you want to have a follow- up appointment with the student during which time you will find out if he or she has scheduled an appointment with a treatment provider. If not, continue to encourage the student to seek treatment. When approaching someone with an eating disorder, be sure to have reasons to back up your suspicions about the person having an eating disorder. Express this in a tone of caring and concern. Rather than directly asking the student if he or she has an eating disorder, you may initially want to ask an anorexic, for example, "Do you restrict your calories or diet?" or a bulimic, "Do you use compensatory techniques to lose weight or prevent weigfht gain after eating?"
- Have handouts and brochures available for students in your counseling center, such as brochures by N.A.M.E.D. Also, have videos on eating disorders available for viewing.
Invite an eating disorder therapist to facilitate an “Eating Disorders Therapy Support Group” or a presentation on eating disorders at the college.
If you have an eating disorder, confide in a school counselor, so you can get a treatment referral. If the school counselor does not know of any local treatment referrals, you can write to Chris@NAMEDinc.org or call N.A.M.E.D. at 1- 877-780- 0080 for a treatment referral. Things can get better, if you are willing to invest the time and energy into recovery. Having an eating disorder therapist will help facilitate the healing process. Confucius said, “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” Be willing to take that first step in your journey to recovery.
Family and friends tend to feel helpless when it comes to helping a person with an eating disorder. You may ask yourself, "Should I talk to him or her about it? What should I say? What should I do, if he or she becomes defensive?" These are good questions, but don’t let your fear stand in the way of expressing your concern to the other person. It is critical that the person receive professional help sooner rather than later, so be willing to intervene.
Remember, you can support and encourage someone to seek treatment, but you cannot force him or her to seek treatment and you cannot do the work of recovery for him or her. For those whose medical condition is seriously compromised and is life- threatening get immediate medical attention. If the individual with the eating disorder refuses treatment, call a therapist and request an intervention. In an intervention the therapist and the family and/or friends plan a meeting with the person with the eating disorder where all members can express their feelings on the issue and encourage the individual who is in denial of his illness or refuses treatment to reconsider treatment as a critical next step for improving one's health and his relationships.
For information on how to help someone with an eating disorders, go to the “Message” page on this website and view “Their Family and Friends.” Also, go to the “Treatment” page and read “Tips for Encouraging Someone to Seek Treatment” and “Tips on How to Support Someone in Treatment.”
Eating for Life Alliance (ELA) is a non-profit with a mission of ensuring colleges have access to resources for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders. Visit http://www.eatingforlife.org.
Normal in Schools - A national non-profit arts-and-education organization produced "ED 101" to educate students as well as the community about eating disorders. This 35 minute film is available for viewing
Screening for Mental Health - The National Eating Disorders Screening Program (NEDSP), a CollegeResponse program, is designed to educate and screen college students for eating disorders and to connect at-risk students with the resources they need. Visit http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org.