While most adjust to their new setting on a college campus, some students struggle with their appearance, becoming overly concerned with what their new peers will think of them. Soon after arriving, their concerns become anxieties and manifest themselves as two major types of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia appears to be more prevalent now than ever before. With society’s emphasis on physical beauty and perfection, many individuals (particularly females) find themselves preoccupied with size and weight. Anorexia is characterized by a refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight. Often, those of normal or even smaller size have a distorted image of themselves and begin to engage in anorexic behaviors. These behaviors rarely begin before puberty, but are common between ages 13 and 18. Many college students have already begun limiting their food intake before they move to the college campus. Usually, the adjustments to college life only make the problem worse.

The following is a list of symptoms associated with anorexia:

  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight
  • Absence of menstrual cycles in females
  • Inability to recognize the current low body weight
  • Refusal to eat, or eating minimal amounts of foods with no nutritional value (e.g., lettuce)
  • Excessive exercise
  • Wearing clothes that do not reveal one’s true figure and size
  • Sometimes individuals will binge and purge, but still maintain a dangerously low body weight

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is one of the most common eating disorders in the United States. Although historically it has been associated with women, the disorder seems to occur in men as well. Bulimic behavior usually begins in the late teens or early twenties. Because students confront the developmental tasks of leaving home, establishing identity and developing mature interpersonal relationships, the university environment can serve as a trigger for this behavior.

Individuals with bulimia often find themselves over-concerned with weight even though they are of normal body weight. The classic symptoms of bulimia are binge eating and purging behaviors. Some of the criteria that distinguish bulimia from other eating disorders include:

  • Persistent or recurrent episodes of binge eating (eating tremendous amounts within a short time period and having no control over eating habits)
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications
  • Inappropriate fasting
  • Excessive exercise

All of these behaviors take place due to negative self-evaluation based on body shape and weight. If you engage in any of these behaviors, or if you know someone who does, you may be harming yourself internally and you probably don’t even know it. You need help. If left untreated, individuals with eating disorders will experience long-term health problems, even death.

If your diet has changed greatly, you may have an eating disorder. If so, confidential treatment is available free of charge at the UWA Counseling Center.