Latest about COVID-19 and W&M's Path Forward.

Info for... William & Mary
William & Mary W&M menu close William & Mary

Understanding Eating Disorders

What is an Eating Disorder?

Many people experience difficulty when managing how much they eat. Holidays seem to invite overeating. Certain sports (e.g., wrestling, ballet) or special times (e.g., summer) may warrant a close watch over how much weight is carried or when dieting seems to be a must. Yet, for some, eating and dieting may play too central of a role in their lives.

One type of an eating disorder arises when a person periodically overeats extreme amounts of food. These episodes are often followed by self-induced vomiting or purging, sometimes through the use of laxatives.  The number of overeating, vomiting, and/or purging episodes may vary daily or weekly. This eating disorder is called bulimia nervosa.

Another eating disoder may emerge when a person continually places limits on what they eat until they are fasting regularly. This eating disorder is known as anorexia nervosa. A preoccupation with food, dieting and possibly excessive exercising accompanies this eating disorder. Bulimic episodes may also accompany anorexia.

How do Eating Disorders Develop?

There are many theories present today which provide explanations for why an eating disorder develops. These include psychological, biological, and social perspectives. What is known about the development of an eating disorder is that it is complex and may involve all of the perspectives mentioned.

What Signals That You or Someone You Know, May Have an Eating Disorder?

Anorexia Nervosa

  • refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
  • dry skin
  • intolerance of cold
  • lack of menstrual periods
  • distorted body image
  • excessive exercise
  • denial of hunger
  • intense fear of gaining weight

Bulimia Nervosa

  • fluctuating body weight from alternating overeating and fasting
  • excessive guilt over eating
  • depression
  • disappearing after meals
  • frequent overeating, especially when under stress
  • feelings of being out-of-control
  • recurrent use of self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise to prevent weight gain
  • self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight
How Can You Help Someone Who May Have an Eating Disorder?

Approach with compassion and a plan that involves a statement of concern and the basis for that concern.

Avoid making a statement about weight (e.g., "you look too thin") which may be taken as a compliment. Instead, confront the person with your observation that they look unhealthy, unhappy, and that you are concerned and know where they can get help.

Be prepared - you may trigger an outburst of anger.

If the person questions you about their weight, ask them "What do you think? It is how you feel about yourself that's important, not what I think."

Use positive statements. Scare tactics don't work.

Have on hand specific information about the options for help: where to go, whom to see, how to get an appointment, and how much it will cost. You might offer to go with the person.

Consult a professional for help in making your caring confrontation.

How Can You Make an Appointment?

To make an appointment, request programs, arrange a consultation, or to find out further information about our services, feel free to call (757) 221-3620 or stop by the Counseling Center.