Disordered Eating

The current prevalence of eating disorders in America is estimated at over 11 million.  While eating disorder affect 1-2% of the total population, up to 30% of post-secondary education students will experience some symptoms of disordered eating during their school years.  Why the disproportionate affliction?  Unfortunately, many of the qualities that are risk factors for the development of eating disorders, such as perfectionism and self-discipline are the same qualities that drive students to excel and be accepted to a school such as UCSF. 

Do you think you or someone you are close to may have an eating disorder?  Below is a description of the most common types of disordered eating, along with physical symptoms that can help you decide if professional intervention is necessary.  Information is also provided on how to find help at UCSF and suggestions on how to help a friend. 

 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a very serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by restrictive eating disorders and excessive weight loss, typically at least 15% below the recommended body weight for height.

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Starvation and food restriction
  • Social withdrawal
  • Obsession with food, calories, recipes (cooking for others but not eating anything themselves)
  • Excessive exercise with obsessive negative thoughts if a workout is skipped
  • Purging by vomiting, using diet pills, laxatives or diuretics
  • Unusual eating behaviors (picking at food, spreading it around, cutting into tiny pieces)
  • Eating junk food, especially candy, and consuming large amounts of coffee or tea, or smoking
  • Excuses to avoid eating
  • Hiding food

 

Physical Symptoms

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness
  • Headaches
  • Constant feelings of cold and needing to layer clothing
  • Pale complexion
  • Menstrual irregularities (including amenorrhea)
  • Fainting, dizziness

 

Emotional Symptoms

  • Depression, irritability, mood swings
  • Believing oneself to be fat when actually underweight
  • Overwhelming concern with body image
  • Perfectionist attitude

 

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is a very serious and potentially life threatening eating disorder characterized by recurrent cycles of binge eating followed by a compensatory behavior.  Binges are described as episodes of excessive calorie consumption and a lack of control over the behavior.  Purging is done via forced vomiting, laxative abuse, subsequent fasting or over-exercising to “make up” for calories consumed during the binge. 

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Binge eating
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
  • Intense exercise regimen
  • Laxative, diet pill or diuretic abuse
  • Fasting all day
  • Secretive eating

 

Physical Symptoms

  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Red, puffy face and watery eyes
  • Swollen glands
  • Fatigue, muscle weakness
  • Weight fluctuations (between 10 and 15 pounds)
  • Tooth decay

 

Emotional Symptoms

  • Persistent concern with body image
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of guild and shame

 

Binge Eating

Similar to bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder is defined by the consumption of unusually large amounts of food, coupled with loss of control.  Unlike bulimia, there is no compensatory purging involved to counter the overeating.  A combination of the desire to diet plus stress can trigger binge eating.

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Secretive eating patterns
  • Always “on a diet”
  • Hiding food
  • Avoidance of social situations that revolve around food

 

Physical Symptoms

  • Significant weight fluctuations
  • Weight gain

 

Emotional Symptoms

  • Loss of control while eating
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts

 

What next? Do any of these symptoms or behaviors sound familiar? Clinicians at UCSF Student Health and Counseling can help you assess your eating patterns and help determine if support and treatment are needed. Recovery is possible and best approached by receiving support from a team of physicians, mental health providers and dietitians. Call (415) 476-1281 for an appointment.

Do you think a friend may be suffering from disordered eating? Check out the National Eating Disorders Association’s tips.