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Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) are psychiatric diagnoses that involve a significant disturbance in the perception of body shape and weight which leads to an abnormal or obsessive relationship with food, exercise, and self-image.

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by the refusal to maintain minimally normal weight for age and height (weight less than 85% of expected); an intense fear of gaining weight; a denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight; and, in postmenarcheal women, an absence of monthly menstruation.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate behaviors to prevent weight gain such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, and enemas; fasting; and/or excessive exercise.

Eating disorder not otherwise specified has many of the characteristics of anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia nervosa, without meeting the strict parameters of those diagnoses. While EDNOS is not as well known as the other eating disorders, it is a more significant problem than anorexia or bulimia.

Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse often accompany these disorders. In addition, significant physical complications can also occur. If a student’s eating disorder jeopardizes his/her physical and emotional health, the student may need to leave school and enter intensive treatment.

Some of the symptoms associated with eating disorders are significant weight loss (15% or more) from original body weight; the inability to concentrate; chronic fatigue; decreased strength of immune system and susceptibility to illness; an obsession with food that dominates the student’s life; extreme moodiness; excessive vulnerability to stress; tendency to socially withdraw; repetitive injuries and pain from compulsive/excessive exercise; and extreme perfectionism and/or rigidity.

When you suspect a student may have an eating disorder:


  1. When possible, speak to the student in private.
  2. Be supportive and express your concern about the student’s health. Provide specific examples of behaviors or symptoms that are of concern.
  3. Refer the student to Women's Services & Resources (801.422.4877; for consultation and information about the Fed Up with Food Support Group.
  4. Consult with Counseling and Psychological Services (801.422.3035) if you want advice on how or when to intervene with a student.
  5. Consider encouraging the student to meet with a physician at Student Health Services (801.422.2771).


  1. Reassure a student that his/her obsessions are normal and therefore nothing to worry about.
  2. Scare the student into changing or getting help. With eating disorders, fear seldom motivates change.
  3. Make jokes about eating disorders or about fat people to students.
  4. Make positive comments about a student’s weight loss. It is difficult to discern if you are rewarding healthy behavior or encouraging a hidden disorder.

Other Resources/Suggested Reading:


Intuitive Eating
The Happiness Trap
The Illustrated Happiness Trap