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, both females and males, to engage in unhealthy ways of managing weight.
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.
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.
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.
On a physical level:
- Are you feeling weaker, or chronically fatigued?
- Are you getting sick or injured more often?
- Are you more prone to dizziness and fainting?
- If you are a woman, have you stopped menstruating?
On a mental level:
- Are you having trouble concentrating?
- Do you have less mental stamina?
- Does you find it difficult to stop thinking about weight, body size, eating or exercise?
On an emotional level:
- Do you find your emotions change according to what you have eaten or how much, or what you have done to try to get rid of the calories you've ingested?
- When you don’t eat or exercise the way you think you should, do you become disproportionally anxious?
- Do you often feel ashamed or guilty about your body, your eating or your exercise choices?
- Do you feel more irritable, anxious, or depressed in general?
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 and more rigid about your eating and weight behaviors?
Any of the above is a problem. Don't let it get worse because it easily can. Don't let it persist, because it will distort your future health and worse, impair your capacity to develop in all the ways you can and should at this time in your life. Take action to preserve your health and happiness.You can get help right away by calling any of these 3 numbers:
Health Services Nutritionist
All of these services are free and confidential.
The Boston College Eating Awareness Team has generously allowed us to adapt their information on eating concerns. We gratefully acknowledge their help.