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Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a complex issue. It is estimated that more than half of college students, especially women, have some form of body image concerns, although most do not have an eating disorder. Both men and women in college are vulnerable to developing an eating disorder as a way of managing the feelings of stress and the pressure of college life.

There are many reasons why someone will develop an eating problem, however, common triggers are an over focus on physical appearance as a means of gaining self-esteem, difficulty talking about feelings, peer
pressure, and a desire to fit in. In addition, there are societal pressures telling us that being thin is an ideal standard, when in fact most people are not naturally as thin as the images portrayed.

Though occasional overeating and restrictive dieting do not necessarily signal a problem, increased frequency and duration of certain eating-related patterns may indicate the existence of a more serious problem. It is when these behaviors begin to dominate a person's life and take precedence over everything else that an eating disorder may exist. What frequently begins as a solution to a problem can become an even bigger problem itself.

Some of the physical symptoms that occur as a result of an eating disorder include the following:

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Feeling weak or fatigued
  • Constipation
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Dehydration and kidney problems
  • Amenorrhea (absent of menstrual cycle)
  • Fine body hair called "lanugo" develops on the arms
  • Stomach acid erodes tooth enamel

The three most common eating disorders are:

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by a person being 15 percent below their normal body weight; feels fat, despite being thin; persistent fear of gaining weight; restricted eating; erratic menstrual cycle or a loss of menstrual cycle for at least three months; and preoccupation with body weight and shape.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a person engaging in recurrent episodes of binge eating, followed sometimes by attempts to purge through self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, or excessive exercising. The person may or may not purge. The person is often secretive about binging and/or purging. The person will also feel a loss of control over eating.

Binge-Eating Disorder is similar to bulimia, however, the person does not engage in behaviors to manage uncomfortable feelings about eating such as vomiting, excessive exercising, laxatives, etc. The person engages in recurrent episodes of binge eating and feels a loss of control.

Many students may not even know that they have an eating disorder, and for those who know they have an eating disorder it can be difficult for them to seek help.

If you are concerned that you, or someone you know may have an eating disorder, ask for help. The longer an eating disorder goes untreated, the greater the medical and psychological consequences.

Call Syracuse University Counseling Center at 443-4715 for an initial assessment. Please refer to our Eating Disorder Services page for more information (hyperlink).

Below are links to several web sites with general information about eating disorders and body image.

National Eating Disorders Association
NEDA is dedicated to expanding public understanding of eating disorders and promoting access to quality treatment for those affected, along with support for their families through education, advocacy, and research.

An easy-to-navigate site that provides definitions, how and where to get help, and what goals to expect out of treatment.