Student Life

Student Health Center - Health Information

Body Image & Eating Concerns

Every Body is Different
It is important to remember that every body is different. We all have different genetics. Even if everyone started eating the same things and did the same amount of exercise for a whole year, we would not all look the same at the end of the year. This is because each person’s genetics influence their bone structure, body size, and weight differently.

WARNING SIGNS OF ANOREXIA

  • Continued dieting when a person is not overweight
  • Preoccupation with food, nutrition, calories and/or cooking
  • Thinness – loss of 15% or more of ideal body weight
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive overexercising
  • Hiding food/pretending to have eaten
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Preoccupation with weight and body image, frequently weighing oneself
  • Complains of feeling bloated or nauseous when normal amounts of food are eaten
  • Intolerance of cold temperatures
  • Cessation of menstruation
  • Hair loss or thinning hair
  • Feels cold even though temperature is normal or slightly cool

WARNING SIGNS OF BULIMIA

  • Obsessively concerned about weight
  • Repeated cycles of out of control eating followed by some form of purging (e.g. vomiting, exercise, subsequent restricting)
  • Excessive use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Leaving the end of meals quickly to use the bathroom
  • Swollen glands at the bottom of face, resulting in chipmunk-like appearance
  • Buys a large amount of food “to share” that never gets shared
  • Feeling guilty about eating, feeling shame about amount eaten
  • Eating in response to emotional stress
  • Frequent fluctuations in weight
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Cannot voluntarily stop eating
  • Feeling out of control
  • Attempts diets, but generally fails

WARNING SIGNS OF BODY IMAGE ISSUES

  • Unable to accept compliments
  • Frequently compares self to others
  • Attempts to create a “perfect” image
  • Consistently overestimates the size of one’s body or body parts
  • Refers to self using disparaging names
  • Seeks reassurance from others that one’s looks are acceptable
  • Has an overriding sense of shame about one’s self and his/her body
  • Ever-present fear of being fat
  • Equates thinness with beauty, success, perfection, happiness, confidence, and self-control
  • Allowing one’s drive for thinness to supercede all of life’s pleasures or goals

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Health Consequences of Eating Disorders

  • Eating Disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health.
  • Eating disorders are not just a “fad” or a “phase.” People do not just “catch” an eating disorder for a period of time. They are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships.
  • People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.

Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa:
In anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in serious medical consequences. These include:

  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which means that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
  • Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.
  • Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

Health Consequences of Bulimia Nervosa:
The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Some of the health consequences of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium and chloride from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
  • Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing.
  • Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

Health Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder:
Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity. Some of the potential health consequences of binge eating disorders include:

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol levels.
  • Heart disease as a result of elevated triglyceride levels.
  • Type II diabetes mellitus.
  • Gallbladder disease.

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How to Help Someone with an Eating Problem

  • Don’t be surprised if the person reacts with denial or even hostility to your concerns. Denial of the problem is one of the symptoms of an eating disorder.
  • Be prepared to approach the person multiple times. Although it may seem that you are not doing any good, people who have recovered from an eating disorder usually say that it was important that family and friends kept trying to reach out to them. The messages of concern will accumulate, and eventually, they might make a difference.
  • Don’t make promises that will endanger the person’s well-being (e.g. don’t promise you “won’t tell” if you feel that the person’s life might be in danger).
  • Encourage the person to seek help from a trained professional. Let them know that you are concerned about their health and well-being. The Counseling and Personal Development Center can be reached at extension 1090.
  • Know your limits. Don’t try to provide therapeutic help for the person yourself. You do not want to become a substitute for professional care.
  • Don’t offer advice and simple solutions. Telling a person that they will feel better if they eat, or that they just need to refrain from throwing up, is usually more harmful than helpful. You don’t want to minimize the struggle the person is facing.
  • Don’t dwell on food-related discussions with the person.
  • Don’t try to change the person’s symptomatic behaviors. Coaxing a person to eat or trying to lock them out of the bathroom so that they can’t purge will only make that person feel more out of control. Feeling in control tends to be very important to people with eating disorders.
  • Do no comment on the person’s weight or appearance (or your own). Don’t compare them to others. Your comments may be interpreted the wrong way.
  • Learn all you can about eating disorders. Your understanding will help you cope with the frustrations of watching someone who has an eating disorder, especially if they are refusing help.
  • Consult a professional for advice and to get support for dealing with the problem. The Counseling and Personal Development Center can be reached at x1090.

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RESOURCES

Books:
The Body Betrayed: A Deeper Understanding of Women, Eating Disorders, and Treatment
By: Kathryn J. Zerbe, M.D.
Body Traps: Breaking the Binds that Keep You from Feeling Good About Your Body
By: Judith Rodin, Ph.D.
Handbook of Eating Disorders
By: Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D. & John R. Foreyt, Ph.D.
Surviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Family and Friends
By: Michele Siegel, Ph.D., Judith Brisman, Ph.D., & Margot Weinshel, M.S.W.
Why Are They Starving Themselves? Understanding Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa
By: Elaine Landau

Websites:
www.edap.org - National Eating Disorders Association
www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org - Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action
www.edreferral.com - Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
www.renfrew.org - The Renfrew Center Foundation
www.achancetoheal.org - A Chance to Heal Foundation

SJU:
Counseling Center x1090
Student Health Center x1175

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