Disordered eating exists on a spectrum of unhealthy eating to clinical eating disorders. The three most common eating disorders
- Binge eating
Not all people who have disordered eating patterns fit the criteria for an eating disorder. Not all people who have disordered eating patterns are extremely thin, nor are all women. Eating disorders often begin or worsen during transition periods such as starting college.
Disordered eating can lead to other problems, including dehydration, depression, anxiety, malnourishment, decreased concentration, and decreased ability to make good decisions.
Signs that someone may be experiencing disordered eating include:
- Dramatic weight loss in a relatively short period of time.
- An intense and irrational fear of body fat and weight gain. A misperception of body weight and shape to the extent that the person feels fat even when underweight.
- A determination to become thinner and thinner.
- Personality traits such as perfectionism, being obsessive, approval seeking, low self-esteem, withdrawal, irritability, and all or nothing thinking.
- Frequent skipping of meals, with excuses for not eating.
- Eating only a few foods, especially those low in fat and calories.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals.
- Frequent weighing of self and focusing on tiny fluctuations in weight.
- Excessive focus on an exercise regimen outside of normal practice and conditioning.
- Using (or hiding use of) diet pills, laxatives.
- Fatigue and overall weakness.
- Eating very large quantities of food at one sitting.
- No menstrual periods or irregular periods.
A friend of yours appears to have lost quite a bit of weight lately. You notice that her eating habits are becoming more and more unusual. She is skipping meals and altering foods when she does eat (i.e. pulling cheese off pizza). When approached, she is defensive, denying that anything is wrong. This has negatively impacted not only her performance but also your relationship with her. What do you do?
Make the first move:
- Talk to your friend. Keep the discussion informal and confidential, and focus on concerns about your friend’s health and your relationship with her, not on weight or appearance.
- Let the individuals have as many options surrounding food as possible. For example, let her choose the restaurant if you are going out to eat.
- Listen. Find out what other things are going on in her life.
- Promote the idea that good nutrition leads to good health.
- Encourage her to seek professional help. Know the resources available for her (i.e. Counseling Center)
- You may be rejected. People with eating disorders often deny their problem because they are afraid to admit they have a problem. 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.
We express our appreciation to the University of Arizona C.A.T.S. Life Skills Program for allowing us to use modified versions of their STEP UP! Program content in this USI campus initiative.