University of Southern Indiana

Disordered Eating

Disordered eating exists on a spectrum of unhealthy eating clinical eating disorders. The three most common eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • 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 of disordered eating

  • 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 a 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 or laxatives
  • Fatigue and overall weakness
  • Eating very large quantities of food at one sitting
  • No menstrual periods or irregular periods

Example
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 (e.g. pulling cheese off pizza). When approached, she is defensive, denying that anything is wrong. This has negatively impacted not only her sports 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 her have as many options surrounding food as possible. For example, let her pick the restaurant if you are going out to eat.
  • Listen. Find out what's going on in her life.
  • Promote the idea that good nutrition leads to good health.
  • Encourage her to seek professional help. Help her make an appointment at the 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. Try to end the conversation in a way that will allow you to come back to the subject at another time.

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