Eating Concerns and Body Image

Body Image and Eating Concerns

It’s common for people to have concerns about their diet, weight, and/or appearance. Sometimes these concerns can lead to unhealthy preoccupations with body weight or shape and eating habits. They can affect your self-esteem, and overall physical and emotional wellbeing. Soon, you may notice these preoccupations affecting other areas of life- choosing an extra workout over a favorite activity, missing out on a friend’s birthday gathering because you’re not comfortable eating the food that will be served. Precious time out of your day spent food logging or calorie counting. When these preoccupations begin invading your everyday thoughts and activities, taking more time out of your day, consider talking to a healthcare professional. At Brown, therapists at Counseling and Psychological Services, and medical providers and the registered dietitian at Health Services, are very familiar with addressing all types of eating concerns.

Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorder: What's the Difference?

Eating concerns fall within a broad spectrum of eating-related feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. They very often start out well-intentioned; for example, eating more fruits and vegetables or starting a new gym routine. Often, a person might feel so great after making a lifestyle change such as this that they make another, and then another. It might seem healthy at first, but soon the person has less energy, has difficulty concentrating on work or classes, and becomes more irritable and socially isolated. Sometimes, these behaviors can develop into a clinical eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. The term “disordered eating” refers to unhealthy eating and/or exercise behaviors that can negatively impact one’s physical and psychological wellbeing,  but may not meet criteria for a clinical eating disorder.

Regardless of whether you or someone you care about meets diagnosis criteria for an eating disorder, anyone who finds themselves preoccupied with concerns about their eating or appearance is encouraged to seek help. Many people delay seeking help because they think they’re “not sick enough”, and by the time they do, the eating disorder has taken over their life. The sooner one seeks help, the sooner one can start to get their life back.

Taking the First Step

Struggling with eating issues can be painful and frightening. The first step to overcoming an eating concern is recognizing that it’s become a problem. An important aspect of this is realizing that eating/exercise behaviors and distressed feelings are negatively impacting not only your food choices, but other aspects of your life as well. If you are concerned about yourself or a friend, this confidential screening from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can help you determine if it’s time to seek professional help.

From the NEDA website: NEDA partners with Screening for Mental Health, Inc. (SMH) to provide an online eating disorder screening tool. This website provides people with the option to take a free, anonymous self-assessment to gauge their risk of an eating disorder. The anonymous SMH online screening takes only a few minutes and consists of a series of questions, developed by treatment professionals in the eating disorders field, which are designed to indicate whether clinical help is needed. The availability of such a "low pressure" first-step towards recovery is a vital tool. This is an outstanding resource for people who may need help or know someone who may need help and don't know where to begin.

Nine Truths About Eating Disorders

There are many myths that you might hear about eating disorders. Here are the facts:

All Bodies Are Different

From the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)-

  • Eating disorders can affect all kinds of bodies and you cannot tell by looking at someone if they have an eating disorder.

  • Each person’s genetic inheritance influences their bone structure, body size, shape, and weight differently. We should appreciate those differences, encourage healthy behaviors, and treat every body with respect.

  • Your “ideal” body weight is the weight that allows you to feel strong and energetic and lets you lead a healthy, normal life.

  • Your body can be healthy across a wide range of weights. When searching for your ideal weight, charts, formulas, and tables may be misleading and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified expert. For more information on size diversity and Health at Every SizeⓇ:

Eating Disorders Do Not Discriminate

Eating disorders arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors (NEDA). Anyone can have an eating disorder, regardless of: race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and body weight/size/shape. Misconceptions about who is affected by eating disorders has historically been a barrier to treatment for those who feel they don’t fit the stereotypical image of someone with an eating disorder. The reality is that eating disorders affect diverse communities including persons of color, LGBTQ+ identified individuals, and persons of size. For more information on eating disorders in diverse bodies please visit:

Recovery Is Possible

Recovery from disordered eating patterns or a diagnosed eating disorder is absolutely possible. However, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Very often, physical symptoms and nutrition improve first but negative, disordered cognitions persist. Research indicates that a multi-disciplinary approach is the most effective treatment for eating disorders. This means treatment should include a licensed therapist, registered dietitian nutritionist, medical provider, and if indicated, a psychiatrist. Many students don’t realize that all of these services are available on Brown’s campus through Counseling and Psychological Services and Health Services. If you or a friend is ready to get help, Brown can help you take the first step. It doesn’t matter if you call CAPS, Health Services, or the dietitian first. Start with whichever one you feel most comfortable with. From there, a provider will help you establish the rest of your treatment team.

Help At Brown

Brown University seeks to foster the intellectual, emotional, and physical well-being of students. In keeping with this goal, the University realizes the need for support and education around the topics of weight, body image, disordered eating, food preoccupation, and exercise obsession.

We have found that the pressures which Brown students experience can contribute to an increased emphasis on food, body image, and exercise. Brown students are faced with new living and eating situations. In a small community like ours, students often compare their eating and exercise habits to others. Unfortunately, these comparisons can lead to obsessions and unhealthy behaviors.

Eating disorders affect people emotionally, socially, and physically. Therefore, individualized treatment utilizes the expertise of a variety of clinical specialists. These professionals are available to you as a Brown student:

  • Physicians/Physician Assistants/Nurse Practitioners: for medical evaluations and ongoing monitoring, irregular menses, bone health, and symptom management.
  • Psychotherapists: for counseling around eating concerns and any co-existing issues such as stress, depression, anxiety, and OCD.
  • Psychiatrists: when indicated, for  medication evaluation to help manage cognitive and emotional symptoms.
  • Registered Dietitian Nutritionist: for assistance in addressing barriers to healthy, normal eating and activity patterns, as well as achieving a healthy relationship with food.

On-Campus Resources

An eating disorder can have short and long-term health consequences, and can impair your capacity to develop in all the ways you can and should at this time in your life. 

If you think your relationship with food, exercise, or body image is becoming a problem, or if after taking the online eating disorder screen professional help is indicated, get support right away from one or all of the following campus resources.   

Counseling and Psychological Services

Health Services 

Health Services Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Student Support Services

All of these services are free of charge for Brown students.

The Boston College Eating Awareness Team has generously allowed us to adapt their information on eating concerns. We gratefully acknowledge their help.

Recommended Websites

Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH): 

Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA):

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

National Association for Men with Eating Disorders (N.A.M.E.D):

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):

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