Eating Disorders & Body Image

Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights. National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

General Information 

Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their gender or sex. Recent studies suggest that 1 in 5 college women struggle with an eating disorder. Although eating disorders are more common in females, researchers and clinicians are becoming aware of a growing number of males and non-binary individuals who are seeking help for eating disorders. A 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to one-third of all eating disorder sufferers are male, and a 2015 study of US undergraduates found that transgender students were the group most likely to have been diagnosed with an eating disorder in the past year (Diemer, 2015). It is currently not clear whether eating disorders are actually increasing in males and transgender populations or if more of those individuals who are suffering are seeking treatment or being diagnosed. 

Signs of eating disorders include: preoccupation with food and thinness, excessive exercise, refusal to eat, noticeable and extreme weight loss, food rituals, depressed mood, withdrawal from friends, low self-esteem, and negative body image.

Risk Factors 

While no one knows for sure what causes eating disorders, a growing consensus suggests that it is a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. These factors may interact differently in different people, so two people with the same eating disorder can have very diverse perspectives, experiences, and symptoms. 

Recovery

It’s important to remember that biology isn’t destiny. There is always hope for recovery. Although biological factors play a large role in the onset of eating disorders, they are not the only factors. The predisposition towards disordered eating may reappear during times of stress, but there are many good techniques individuals with eating disorders can learn to help manage their emotions and keep behaviors from returning. Early intervention is a key part of eating disorder prevention, and helps reduce serious psychological and health consequences. Recovery from an eating disorder can be a long process and requires a qualified team of professionals and the love and support of family and friends. 

Recovery time varies from person to person. Some people get better relatively quickly, while others take longer to improve. Although not everyone with an eating disorder will recover fully, many do improve with treatment. Even with full recovery, many people with eating disorders find that they have to take steps to make sure they stay well. This can include planning meals; regular check-ins with a therapist, dietitian, or doctor; medication; and/or other types of self-care.

Common eating disorders

Anorexia Nervosa 

Involves an attempt to control ones weight by restricting the amount of food eaten. Anorexia tends to begin during high school or college with an attempt to "lose a few pounds” which then may lead to a tremendous fear of becoming fat. Individuals struggling with anorexia may lose their menstrual periods, feel physically cold often, suffer from dry skin and hair, low blood pressure, and experience heart difficulties. Concentration can become diminished, impacting a student’s ability to learn and do well in classes. The malnourishment associated with anorexia may lead to death.

Bulimia Nervosa 

Involves a cycle of uncontrolled eating, or "binging", followed by purging behaviors. Purging behaviors may include vomiting, the use of laxatives, and excessive exercise. The physical effects of bulimia can be quite serious including damage to tooth enamel, stomach, esophagus, kidney problems, and seizures. Electrolyte imbalances can result in sudden cardiac failure and death.

Binge Eating Disorder

A condition in which people binge on large numbers of calories at one time, but do not purge. Compulsive overeaters feel out of control with their eating habits, and may suffer from low self-esteem and body image. They may eat when they feel stressed, or may binge after attempting to eat normally for a period of time. Because of the secretive nature of their eating, compulsive overeaters often feel isolated, but they may fear being ostracized if others were to find out.

Body image

What is body image? 

Body image is how an individual perceives, feels and experiences her or his body. It involves how you think and feel about your appearance and what it is like to live in your body. 

Body image exists on a continuum with individuals who largely feel positively about their body at one end of the continuum. These individuals do not tie their self esteem to their pant size or whether they are perceived attractive by others. They base their self esteem on a variety of factors.

At the other end of the continuum are those individuals who feel very negatively about their body the majority of the time, experiencing shame related to their appearance. These individuals are more likely to tie their self worth to their body shape and level of attractiveness. People with negative body image are more likely to develop eating disorders.

How many people struggle with their body image?

It is estimated that around 80% of all women struggle with their body image. It is also believed that an increasing number of men feel negatively about their bodies. An individual’s body image is impacted by many factors including one’s overall self esteem, relationships and exposure to the media.

HOW DO I GET HELP FOR MYSELF OR FOR A FRIEND?

Eating Disorders

It can be worrisome to believe that a friend, roommate or loved one may be experiencing an eating disorder. It is important to speak with the student about your concerns in order to offer support and let the student know that you care. The attached are some suggestions for beginning a conversation.

Body Image

There are many ways to improve one’s body image. One strategy is to seek out individual and/or group counseling. Here are some other helpful suggestions to improve your body image.

On-Campus Resources

  • Counseling Center: The Center offers a variety of services for students experiencing eating and body image image issues. Services including assessment and referral, individual and group counseling, Student Bodies, and workshops. 410-704-2512
  • Health Center: Providers at the Health Center provide medical services including eating disorder physicals. Nutrition assessments are also available. 410-704-2466
  • On and Off Campus Referrals

Off-Campus Services

Further Information on Eating Disorders & Body Images

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Additional Resources

Free Area Services
  • ANAD Free Eating Disorder Support Group: Mondays 5:30-6:45 p.m.
  • Ascension Lutheran Church, 7601 York Road, Towson, MD; 410-337-7772
  • Sheppard Pratt Free Eating Disorders Support Group: Wednesdays 7-8:30 p.m.
  • Sheppard Pratt Hospital Gibson Building, Room 200, 6501 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD; 410-938-5252
  • Largely Positive Support Group: Free Support Group for People of Size: 2nd & 4th Tuesdays 7-8:30 p.m. 10621 York Road, Cockeysville, MD; 410-982-9667
On-Campus Events
  • Love Your Tree
  • Body Image Confessions
  • Love Your Body Week
  • Nation Eating Disorder Awareness Week