In this time of heightened awareness of health, fitness, and body image, more and more people are attempting to find ways to manage their weight and influence their appearance. In many sectors of our society, body image has found an idealized status that is shaped by particular views of what will reward us with health, happiness and success. Standards of weight and appearance of course, vary across cultures in the US and other countries. However, it is probably generally true that the world in which students live while at Brown, and the worlds from which most of them come before entering college, are dominated by messages signaling distinct standards for physical appearance. The social pressures for ideal body weight and image have propelled many students, of all genders, to engage in unhealthy ways of managing weight.
Eating Concerns and Body Image
Eating concerns or eating disorder?
Because everyone takes in those messages from the media and surrounding culture, many people are uneasy with their eating habits and physical appearance. The range of normal body types that we are born with is hugely varied. The discrepancies between how you are physically, and how you think you should be, can be very large and very painful unless you have a healthy amount of perspective and self-acceptance to counteract society's pressures. What this means is that you can fall anywhere along the continuum from having eating concerns all the way to having eating disorders.
Who defines an eating disorder?
There are formal and official criteria the medical and psychiatric professions use to diagnose eating disorders. If you are wondering about this for yourself or someone you know, then you probably have reason to be concerned. While we can offer you some guidelines here in making your own judgments, we strongly recommend that you get help from the resources at Brown. Ask your questions, share your concerns: in the end, a professional is the only one who really can give you an objective, informed opinion.
Both medical providers (e.g., doctors, nurses, nutritionists) and mental health professionals (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists) are bound by confidentiality laws that require them to keep private what you reveal (excepting in certain rare circumstances, such as when a person's life may be in danger.) This means that, unless you are at significant risk, Health Services and Psychological Services cannot and will not share or release information to anyone, unless you have given your explicit permission for it -- not your parents, not your friends, not your professors or coaches. Fortunately, Brown has a collection of medical providers and mental health professionals on campus who are available to you and who are expert in recognizing, understanding and providing treatment for the eating and weight concerns that college students encounter.
Recognizing when there's a problem
When has a diet gone too far? When is a method of keeping weight down too much? When has body image become too important? Think about just how much of your waking hours are caught up in thinking about or doing things related to eating or your weight. Has it increased? Have you become driven by it? Has it become more important than doing other things you used to enjoy? Does it distract your attention from schoolwork, relationships? Think honestly about the consequences of your eating and weight issues. The sooner these concerns are addressed, the better the outcomes of restoring a better relationship with food and body image.
On a physical level:
Have you experienced significant weight fluctuations?
Are you feeling weak, or chronically fatigued?
Are you getting sick or injured more often?
Are you more prone to dizziness and fainting?
If you menstruate, have you stopped getting your periods?
On a mental level:
Are you having trouble concentrating?
Do you have less mental stamina?
Are you preoccupied or worry about weight, body size, eating or exercise?
On an emotional level:
Do you find your emotions change according to what or how much you eat?
Do you focus on how you can get rid of the calories you ingested?
Do you get anxious or upset when you do not eat or exercise in a way that you think you should?
Do you often feel ashamed or guilty about your body, eating, or exercise choices?
Do you feel more irritable, anxious, or depressed in general?
Do you avoid social situations that involve food?
On a behavioral level:
Are you more withdrawn from important relationships? Are you more secretive about eating and exercise behaviors?
Are you more obsessive, more compulsive or more rigid about your eating and weight behaviors?
Whether you are concerned about yourself or a friend, it may help to take a free online eating disorder screen offered by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).
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.
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 Dietitian
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.