Eating Concerns and Body Image

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.

Nine Truths About Eating Disorders

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

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, ability 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. 

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, we recognize the importance of supporting students who may be struggling with body image or eating concerns.

Multidisciplinary Treatment for Eating Concerns at Brown

Eating disorders affect people emotionally, socially, and physically. Since they affect every aspect of a person’s life, the gold standard treatment is a multidisciplinary approach consisting of a medical provider, a registered dietitian nutritionist, a licensed therapist, and in some cases, a psychiatrist. Together, these clinicians form a collaborative team, with the student at the center of the treatment team. All of these professionals are available to you as a Brown student.

At Health Services:

  • Physicians/Physician Assistants/Nurse Practitioners: for medical evaluations, medical monitoring, and symptom management.

  • Registered Dietitian Nutritionist: for assistance in addressing barriers to healthy, normalized eating and activity patterns, as well as achieving a healthy relationship with food.

At Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS):

  • 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.

Recommended Websites

Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH): 

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

Project Heal:

  • 401.863-2794
    Health Promotion
  • 401.863-3953
    Health Services
  • 401.863-3558
    Nutrition Appointment Line
  • 401.863-6000
    Sexual Assault Response Line
  • 401.863-4111
  • 401.863-3476
    Counseling & Psychological Services
  • 401.863-4111