An Online Guide to Mental & Behavioral Health

Resources for College Students

Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spiraled out of control. Severe distress or concern about body weight or shape may also characterize an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are real, treatable medical illnesses. They frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life.

For emergencies or urgent needs outside the regular business hours of [insert name of campus mental health services office], the following agencies will connect you with someone who can evaluate your situation and provide help.

Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is a serious eating disorder that is associated with an intense fear of food and weight gain. Individuals become obsessed with food and heavily restrict their intake, starve or exercise compulsively. While anorexia revolves around food and weight, it rarely has anything to do with those things. Typically, people with anorexia use food and other unhealthy behaviors, such as exercising excessively, to cope with painful emotions.

Anorexia Resources

There's a range of reasons why a person develops anorexia, and a range of symptoms - from mild to severe. Anorexia can be fatal. In fact, it has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. But effective treatments are available, and if you're struggling with anorexia, recovery is possible. The key is to work hard and be honest with your treatment team.

Signs & Symptoms

  • There are two types of anorexia: restricting type, where people fast, drastically restrict their diet and over-exercise; and purging type, where people vomit or use laxative and diuretics. Symptoms include:
  • Refusing to eat
  • Not wanting to eat in front of others
  • Skipping meals
  • Cutting out major food groups, and eating only certain foods that the person views as "safe"
  • Purging by vomiting or taking laxatives or diuretics
  • Cooking for others but not eating the food
  • Feeling sad, anxious or
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Tremendous weight loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Fine, soft hair on the body called lanugo
  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Amenorrhea (when a woman's menstrual cycle stops)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dehydration


Many factors combine to cause anorexia. Individuals with close family members with anorexia are at greater risk for anorexia. Several chromosomes have been linked to anorexia. Also, some traits, including perfectionism, low self-esteem and anxiety, are associated with anorexia. Our society's emphasis on thinness plays a contributing role, as does peer pressure, being involved in weight- or appearance-based activities (such as dancing, gymnastics, wrestling) and events that trigger emotional distress.


There's a common myth that anorexia can be fixed if the person just starts eating; however, since there's so much more to anorexia than food, this isn't the answer. Also, many sufferers think of the behaviors associated with anorexia as a useful way to cope. Remember that anorexia is an illness that creates disordered thoughts, and treatment helps with this.

The first focus of treatment is restoring a healthy weight with proper nutrition. Depending on the severity of anorexia and the complications, some people may require emergency hospitalization. If individuals refuse to eat or are badly malnourished, they may require some time in the hospital.

There are also eating disorder treatment facilities that offer outpatient - day programs that you attend - and inpatient - you sleep there - options. There, individuals usually see a team of professionals and participate in individual and group therapy, nutrition education and other treatment activities.

Others might see a therapist weekly. Individual therapy helps sufferers adopt healthy ways of coping, reduce anxiety and change negative thoughts and behaviors. In family-based therapy, families work together to resolve conflicts and help the sufferer maintain healthy behaviors. Group therapy with a professional therapist can also help, and gives people the opportunity to connect with others. If you think you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia, it's important to speak up and get help.

Anorexia Resources

  • National Eating Disorders Association: Information and support for individuals affected by eating disorders and their families. Hotline: (800) 931-2237
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: Non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and alleviation of eating disorders, good source of information and resources. Helpline is available M-F, Central Time: (630) 577-1330
  • Eating for Life Alliance: Non-profit organization provides colleges with educational resources to the prevention and treatment of eating disorders.
  • Overview includes how to distinguish healthy dieting from anorexia nervosa and how anorexia nervosa affects body functioning.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating, followed by frantic efforts to avoid gaining weight. Overeating becomes a compulsion. And instead of eating sensibly to make up for it, you punish yourself by purging, fasting, or exercising to get rid of the calories.

This vicious cycle of binging and purging takes a toll on your body and emotional well-being. But the cycle can be broken. Treatment can help you develop a healthier relationship with food and overcome feelings of anxiety, guilt, and shame.

It's important to note that bulimia doesn't necessarily involve purging - physically eliminating the food from your body by throwing up or using laxatives, enemas, or diuretics. If you make up for your binges by fasting, exercising to excess, or going on crash diets, this also qualifies as bulimia.

Bulimia Resources

Am I Bulimic?

Ask yourself the following questions. The more “yes” answers, the more likely you are suffering from bulimia or another eating disorder.

  • Are you obsessed with your body and your weight?
  • Does food and dieting dominate your life?
  • Are you afraid that when you start eating, you won't be able to stop?
  • Do you ever eat until you feel sick?
  • Do you feel guilty, ashamed, or depressed after you eat?
  • Do you vomit or take laxatives to control your weight?

Steps to bulimia recovery

  • Admit you have a problem. Up until now, you've been invested in the idea that life will be better - that you'll finally feel good - if you lose more weight and control what you eat. The first step in bulimia recovery is admitting that your relationship to food is distorted and out of control.
  • Talk to someone. It can be hard to talk about what you're going through, especially if you've kept your bulimia a secret for a long time. You may be ashamed, ambivalent, or afraid of what others will think. But it's important to understand that you're not alone. Find a good listener - someone who will support you as you try to get better.
  • Stay away from people, places, and activities that trigger the temptation to binge or purge. You may need to avoid looking at fashion or fitness magazines, spend less time with friends who constantly diet and talk about losing weight, and stay away from weight loss web sites and "pro-mia" sites that promote bulimia. You may also need to be careful when it comes to meal planning and cooking magazines and shows.
  • Seek professional help. The advice and support of trained eating disorder professionals can help you regain your health, learn to eat normally again, and develop healthier attitudes about food and your body. All rights reserved. is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children. Full Article

Bulimia Resources

Helpguide: Bulimia Nervosa: Comprehensive overview of the signs, symptoms, treatment and help for bulimia nervosa.

Mayo Clinic: Bulimia Nervosa Treatment: An overview of treatment options, including drugs, for bulimia nervosa.

Binge Eating Disorder

We all overeat from time to time: taking an extra helping at Thanksgiving dinner, or having dessert when you're already full. But for binge eaters, overeating is regular and uncontrollable. You use food to cope with stress and other negative emotions, even though afterwards you feel even worse. The symptoms of binge eating disorder usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood, often after a major diet.

The key features of binge eating disorder are:

  • Frequent episodes of uncontrollable binge eating
  • Feeling extremely distressed or upset during or after bingeing
  • Unlike bulimia, there are no regular attempts to "make up" for the binges through vomiting, fasting, or over-exercising

People with binge eating disorder struggle with feelings of guilt, disgust, and depression. They worry about what the compulsive eating will do to their bodies. They desperately want to stop binge eating, but feel like they can't.

Binge Eating Disorder Resources

Signs of binge eating disorder

Ask yourself the following questions. The more "yes" answers, the more likely it is that you have binge eating disorder.

  • Do you feel out of control when you're eating?
  • Do you think about food all the time?
  • Do you eat in secret?
  • Do you eat until you feel sick?
  • Do you eat to escape from worries, relieve stress, or to comfort yourself?
  • Do you feel disgusted or ashamed after eating?
  • Do you feel powerless to stop eating, even though you want to?

Obesity and binge eating

Over time, compulsive overeating usually leads to obesity. Obesity, in turn, causes numerous medical complications, including: Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, gall bladder and heart disease.

Treatment and help for binge eating disorder

While there are many things you can do to help yourself stop binge eating, it's also important to seek professional support and treatment. Health professionals who offer treatment for binge eating disorder include psychiatrists, nutritionists, therapists, and eating disorder and obesity specialists.

An effective treatment program for binge eating disorder should address more than just your symptoms and destructive eating habits. It should also address the root causes of the problem - the emotional triggers that lead to binge eating and your difficulty coping with stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and other uncomfortable emotions.

If obesity is endangering your health, weight loss may also be an important goal. However, dieting can contribute to binge eating, so any weight loss efforts should be carefully monitored by a professional.

Binge-Eating Disorder Resources

General Mental Health Resources

The menu on the right will link you to information on specific mental health topics. -->
Below are additional links to excellent websites for mental health information:

  • Go Ask Alice: Website operated by Columbia University to answer the questions of college students on issues related to physical health, mental health, and sexuality.
  • Half Of Us: This engaging youth-oriented site uses video stories of students and high-profile artists to increase awareness about mental health issues and the importance of getting help.
  • This website of the American Psychiatric Association offers a broad array of information on topics related to mental health.
  • Helpguide: Website operated by a non-profit organization offers information and resources on a broad range of mental health topics.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): An advocacy group for people living with mental illness and their loved ones. Good source of information and resources on mental health topics.
  • An information and support service using evidence based principles and technology to help teens and young adults facing tough times and struggling with mental health issues.
  • An online resource for college students with information about protecting your emotional health and what to do if you or friends are struggling with mental health issues.
  • Student Health 101