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What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are treatable conditions that affect all aspects of one's wellness: physical, psychological, spiritual, financial, social, environmental, as well as body image. It is important to remember that you cannot tell whether someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. In fact, those in larger bodies who are suffering from an eating disorder are less likely to receive treatment than their small-bodied counterparts due to weight stigma. There are mulitple types of eating disorders: 

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) formerly known as compulsive eating) is characterized by recurrent and compulsive binge eating without the regular use of compensatory behaviors designed to counter over-eating. Individuals who struggle with BED include those in all body types and sizes.

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by some means of purging. This cycle of bingeing and purging leads to drastic and often dangerous changes in one's body chemistry. Chemical imbalances can lead to a stroke and/or a heart attack, even when an individual is relatively young. Additionally, academic performance and general cognition declines as a result, and those suffering may experience a drop in grades or GPA.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight-loss, usually 15% below one's "natural" body weight. Low body weight can lead to major medical complications including low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, kidney problems and chemical imbalances.

Orthorexia is not officially recognized in the diagnostic and statistical manual, however, it was coined in 1998 and is characterized by an obsession with 'proper' or 'healthful' eating. People with orthorexia become so fixated on 'healthy' eating that they can actually damage their own well-being. Those suffering from this tend to also suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, and are at high risk for malnutrition due to severe dietary restriction of certain foods or food groups.

OSFED stands for Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders, and describes a person that presents with feeding or eating behaviors that cause clinically significant stress or impairment, but may not meet the sometimes stringent classifications of the three main eating disorders. OSFED is just as dangerous as other eating disorders, and should never be trivialized or underestimated. 

Is there such a thing as "normal" eating"?

Normal eating is difficult to define and can mean different things for different people. It is important, particularly if you are struggling with eating behaviors, to think about what your relationship with food means to you. See also Mindful Eating.

You are worthy of recovery!

Eating disorder treatment is available and recovery is possible!

It is possible to access eating disorder treatment while taking classes at U-M. No matter your situation, we will work with you to offer support and assistance in the best way we can!

Regardless of how long you've struggled with eating issues or the severity of your eating disorder, the sooner you begin treatment, the better. Recovery doesn't have to wait - we are here to support you from the beginning of this journey until the end. Seek help now if you think you or a friend might be struggling with eating problems.

If you'd like information about eating disorder treatment or if you are concerned about a friend or family member, check out Resources for Eating Disorders and Body Image.

How would I know If I am struggling with an eating disorder?

Many individuals struggling with eating find that they do not fit neatly into the definition of any one eating disorder. Clinicians at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and University Health Service (UHS) can help you to assess your eating patterns and access support and treatment if needed. See Resources for Eating Disorders and Body Image for U-M treatment providers.

For more information about eating disorders, including on-line assessments, see:

How can I help?

It is not always easy to love your body, however developing a more positive body image is possible for everyone. Make the choice to celebrate your natural size despite the unrealistic pressures that are forced on us by the media. Here are a few practical ways to do so:

  • Associate with people who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Promoting the inclusion of all body types, and eliminating the mindset that you have to look a certain way to be optimally healthy.
  • Attempt to open your mind to seeing foods as fuel to nourish yourself, rather than something that is 'good,' 'bad,' or that needs to be limited/restricted.
  • Try changing conversation topics to something else when they turn to weight.
  • Practice forgiveness and self-compassion with food during transitions or troublesome periods. Everyone eats when they are stressed; eating is not about perfection.

Concerned about a friend?

For suggestions, see Helping a Friend.

For more information:

Listen to a broadcast from National Public Radio: For Boys With Eating Disorders, Finding Treatment Can Be Hard

See Resources for Eating and Body Image Issues for more information, ways to get involved and resources for assistance.