Eating Issues

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Did you know?

  • It is estimated that 25–31% of UM students engage in disordered eating behaviors
  • 6% of people struggling with eating disorders will not survive.
  • A dramatically increasing number of men suffer from eating disorders and body image issues.
  • Early detection of disordered eating and body image issues greatly increase the success of treatment.

An Invisible Epidemic

One of the most common, yet least discussed, issues facing college men and women is disordered eating. While the habits associated with disordered eating may not be severe enough to warrant the label of an “eating disorder,” they are still serious and have the potential to be very harmful. Many practices that most people consider normal are actually symptoms of disordered eating.

To complicate matters further, different habit patterns could signal different types of eating and body image disorders. Although technically different disorders, all are serious and all deserve attention and support.

What do you mean by “disordered eating”?

Most people falling victim to eating disorders do not realize their behavior follows disordered eating patterns.Examples include:

  • Feeling guilty when you eat
  • Comparing your eating habits to those around you
  • Defining your self-worth based on how you’ve eaten that day
  • Socially isolating yourself based on perceived weight and/or appearance problems (not going out or not joining friends to meals, or avoiding them during meal times)
  • Turning to weight and food obsessions or exercise to fix other issues
  • Over-exercising to make up for food eaten
  • Blaming social problems on weight and food issues.*

Disordered eating can come and go, and can be very difficult to identify. If any of the above examples sound like you, talking to someone can prevent more severe problems from forming.

* This list was identified by undergraduate students involved in SHARE, a peer health student group at the University of Michigan who are concerned about the unspoken epidemic of eating disorders they have experienced and witnessed among their peers.

Types of Eating Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms/Warning Signs

  • Significant or extreme weight loss with no known medical illness
  • Reduced food intake
  • Eating rituals (eating very slowly, cutting food into tiny pieces, etc.)
  • Denial of hunger
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Social isolation
  • Avoiding joining friends for meals, or avoiding friends during normal meal times
  • Depression, flattened emotion
  • Excessive exercise
  • Hyper-vigilant monitoring of caloric or fat intake
  • Feels/describes self as fat, even when it is not true
  • Has a resistance to gaining healthy weight
  • Rigid behaviors
  • Intense drive for thinness

Medical Consequences

  • Heart problems (esp. cardiac arrhythmia)
  • Cessation of menstruation
  • Kidney stones, kidney failure, and dehydration
  • Growth of fine body hair all over the body
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Digestive problems (bowel irritation and constipation)
  • Osteoporosis

Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms/Warning Signs

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating (eating an excessive amount of food within a specific time period) while feeling a lack of control over eating
  • Engages in compensatory behavior in order to avoid weight gain, like self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise
  • Weight fluctuations within 15 pounds of customary weight
  • Regularly goes to the bathroom after eating to vomit
  • May buy large quantities of food which disappear quickly
  • Eats in secret
  • Regular appearance of facial swelling, broken vessels in the eyes, rawness at corners of the mouth, scarring on top of hand
  • Laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics, or wrappers from these products, found around the home
  • Restriction of food with no apparent weight loss

Medical Consequences

  • Sodium and potassium depletion leading to potentially fatal heart problems
  • Dental problems (stomach acids in vomit erode tooth enamel)
  • Throat/esophagus/stomach problems (irritation and tears in lining)
  • Laxative dependence, leading to inability to have normal bowel movements

Binge Eating Disorder Symptoms/Warning Signs

  • Frequent repeated binge eating
  • Eating much faster than normal
  • Eating large amounts of food when you’re not hungry (perhaps to cope with emotions)
  • Eating alone so others don’t see how much you eat
  • Feeling bad about your behavior (irritation, self-disgust, guilt) and about your body size and/or weight
  • Frequent feelings of being “out of control” during binges

Medical Consequences

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Heart disease

Diabulimia — A Newly Recognized Danger in Eating Disorders

Diabulimia is the term used when eating disorders present themselves through harmful habits in Type I Diabetes management. Individuals with Type I Diabetes (also referred to as juvenile diabetes or IDDM) are charged with the arduous task of taking daily injections of a hormone called insulin, which their body can no longer make.

Insulin is the hormone that allows the body to take the energy from the food we eat, from the blood vessels into the cells. Not having or not taking insulin causes severe and dangerous complications almost immediately. Unfortunately, some people use this as a tactic to lose weight. Weight is temporarily lost quickly, but short term and long term consequences remain.

The term “Diabulimia” has been developed only in the past few years, and is still not currently (2007) recognized as its own eating disorder. However, the American Diabetes Association has realized that insulin omission is a debilitating method to purge food consumed for a while.

Short Term Warning Signs/Symptoms

  • Constant urination
  • Constant thirst
  • Excessive appetite
  • High blood glucose levels (often over 600)
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Large amounts of glucose in the urine
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Electrolyte disturbance
  • Severe ketonuria, and, in DKA, severe ketonemia
  • Low sodium levels

Medium term Symptoms:

Prevalent when diabulimia has not been treated, therefore will also include short term symptoms

  • Muscle atrophy
  • GERD
  • Indigestion
  • Severe weight loss
  • Proteinuria
  • Moderate to severe dehydration
  • Edema with fluid replacement
  • High cholesterol
  • Death

Long term:

If a person with Type 1 diabetes with diabulimia is still alive after a medium term — which is usually due to phases where insulin is injected and phases of diabulimia (also known as a relapse) — then the following symptoms can also be expected:

  • Severe kidney damage
  • Blindness
  • Severe neuropathy
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Edema (during blood sugars controlled phases)
  • Heart problems
  • High cholesterol
  • Osteoporosis

Also Note

Eating disorders can be perpetuated by other complex factors, such as threatening/stressful relationships, experiencing sexual violence or assault, or living with a chronic condition such as in the case of diabulimia in people with Type I Diabetes.

When to Get Help

If you think that you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, disordered eating, or negative body image issues of any kind, there are resources available to you for support.

For a list of resources available to you, please go to your Campus Counseling center.

Remember: Dealing with body image and self-esteem is a life-long process. You are stronger than your disorder; you can take back control over your emotions, and life. Don’t stop trying to understand and accept the wonderful person that you are!

You are not alone, we are here to help!