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What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are treatable conditions that affect one's physical, psychological, spiritual health, and body image. It is important to remember that you cannot tell whether someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. There are three main types of eating disorders: 

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) formerly known as compulsive eating) is characterized by recurrent and compulsive binge eating without the regular use of compensatory behaviors designed to counter over-eating. Individuals who struggle with BED may range from below average weight to obese.

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by some means of purging. This cycle of bingeing and purging leads to drastic and often dangerous changes in one's body chemistry. Chemical imbalances can lead to a stroke and/or a heart attack, even when an individual is relatively young.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight-loss, usually 15% below one's "normal" or "recommended" body weight. Low body weight can lead to major medical complications including low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, kidney problems and chemical imbalances.

Is there such a thing as "normal" eating"?

Normal eating is difficult to define and can mean different things for different people. It is important, particularly if you are struggling with an eating problem, to think about what your relationship with food means to you. See also Mindful Eating.

Recovery is possible!

Eating disorder treatment is available and recovery is possible!

It is possible to access eating disorder treatment while taking classes at U-M. In some cases, students choose to take fewer credits or temporarily withdraw to allow more time and energy for treatment. In any case, we can offer support and assistance!

Regardless of how long you've struggled with eating issues or the severity of your eating disorder, the sooner you begin treatment, the better. The longer disordered eating patterns continue and the more deeply ingrained they become, the more difficult recovery may be. Seek help soon if you think you or a friend might be struggling with eating problems.

If you'd like information about eating disorder treatment or if you are concerned about a friend or family member, check out Resources for Eating Disorders and Body Image.

How would I know If I have an eating disorder?

Many individuals struggling with eating problems find that, although their behaviors are not entirely healthy, they also do not fit neatly into the definition of any one eating disorder. Clinicians at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and University Health Service (UHS) can help you to assess your eating patterns and access support and treatment if needed. See Resources for Eating Disorders and Body Image for U-M treatment providers.

For more information about eating disorders, including on-line assessments, see:

How can I help?

You can help to prevent eating disorders and promote positive body image by celebrating your natural size and choosing to love your body. Here are a few practical ways to do so:

  • Associate with people who make you feel good about yourself.
  • Do not promote the erroneous belief that thinness and weight loss are good while body fat and weight gain are bad.
  • Avoid categorizing foods as good/safe or bad/dangerous.
  • Avoid making negative comments about your physical appearance or that of others.
  • Pay close attention to your diet during transition or troublesome periods. Make it a priority to eat healthfully despite stress.

Concerned about a friend?

For suggestions, see Helping a Friend.

For more information:

Listen to a broadcast from National Public Radio: For Boys With Eating Disorders, Finding Treatment Can Be Hard

See Resources for Eating and Body Image Issues for more information, ways to get involved and resources for assistance.