Eating Disorders

Women and men of various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds suffer from eating disorders. Many eating disorders start to develop or worsen during the college years, because of difficulties adjusting to independent living on a university campus, having to choose what to eat on campus during stressful times, and the pressures from academic and relationship issues. Often, someone who struggles with an eating disorder is experiencing significant underlying personal issues, and their disordered eating is simply a symptom of these other issues.

Do you or someone you know have an eating disorder? Below are some warning signs and symptoms.

Warning Signs and Characteristics of Anorexia

  • Tendency to avoid food and eating (e.g., "I already ate," "I don't feel well," or "I'm allergic (or lactose intolerant) so I can't eat that.")
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
  • Weighing self several times a day
  • Suddenly becoming vegan or vegetarian to avoid eating certain foods
  • Loss of weight in a short amount of time
  • Overly concerned with body size or specific body part
  • Is underweight
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Obsessive qualities

Signs and Characteristics of Bulimia

  • Fear of becoming fat
  • Eating large quantities of food in a short period of time (maybe food is missing from the house)
  • Weighing self several times a day
  • Frequent dieting
  • Going to the bathroom after meals, or wanting to be alone after meals (bulimics usually vomit within one hour after they have eaten.)
  • Red, puffy face and/or watery eyes (from vomiting)
  • Marks, such as teeth marks or redness, on knuckles from when fingers are used to induce vomiting
  • Overly concerned with body size or specific body part
  • Is usually of average weight, although can be overweight or even underweight
  • Impulsive qualities
  • Self evaluation is significantly influenced by body shape and weight

Signs and Characteristics of Binge-Eating Disorder

  • Eating large quantities of food in a short period of time (maybe food is missing from the house)
  • Is usually overweight, but can be of average weight
  • Continuous eating despite being full
  • Impulsive qualities

Detrimental Consequences

There are many negative health consequences associated with eating disorders. In fact, they are one of the leading causes of death amongst all mental illnesses. Some of these health consequences include:

For Anorexia

  • Decreased heart rate & low blood pressure, possibly leading to heart failure.
  • Osteoporosis, leading to bones breaking easily even from walking.
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.

For Bulimia

  • Electrolyte imbalances, leading 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.
  • Damage of 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.

For Binge Eating

Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity.

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

What to Do?

If you know of someone who shows some of the above signs, please note:

Talk to them

It is difficult to watch someone with self-destructive behaviors. And, it is awkward and difficult to confront them. Often they may be defensive, angry, and seem unreceptive.

Explain your concerns and worries

Talk about what specific behaviors they have that increases your concerns. Don't attack them or label them with adjectives.


Listen even if you don't understand. It is difficult to understand everything they are going through, but it is probably most helpful to lend an ear and let them talk about their struggles with food (e.g., whether to eat the few crackers "allowed" for that day).

Don't judge

Don't say to them how ridiculous they are for refusing to eat a piece of fruit, even if they believe that little piece of fruit will make them gain a few pounds. If they perceive you to be judgmental, they will not continue conversations with you.

Try to get help for them

Try to convince them to seek personal counseling, perhaps even offering to go with them for the first time.

Consult with a counselor yourself

It is often difficult to be in a relationship with someone who has an eating disorder. You will be upset yourself as you watch their destructive behavior. Meet with a counselor, get support for yourself, and seek some advice from them.

Do not comment about yours or anyone else's weight or any physical characteristics

Do not comment about yours or anyone else's weight or any physical characteristics even if it is a "positive" comment. Respect people for what they say, feel, and do, not for how they look or appear.

Come to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in the Student Wellness Center, Room 300B, to further evaluate whether a problem actually exists, to learn ways to manager your emotions instead of focusing on your body or weight, and to learn more healthy skills. If your body image is impacting your academics, we also have educational counselors who may help with your educational performance. Our personal counselors are available for appointments and walk in crisis counseling.  Please call us at 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information.

- Robinson, T., Killen, J., Litt, I., Hammer, L., Wilson, D., Haydel, F.,Hayward, C., & Taylor, C. (1996). Ethnicity and Body Dissatisfaction: Are Hispanic and Asian Girls at Increased Risk for Eating Disorders? Journal of Adolescent Health, 19, (6), 384-393.

- National Eating Disorders AssociationExternal Link that Will Take User Outside SJSU Domain