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Eating Disorders

All of us are constantly bombarded with images in advertisements and in the media that are perfect. This sets up extremely unrealistic standards of beauty and unhealthy standards for thinness. It leads many Americans to believe that thinner is better. People with eating disorders believe it so deeply that their weight and dieting success become the measure of their self-esteem. Thinking that eating is the cause and result of many of their problems, they become trapped in a vicious cycle of repeated, ritualistic, and rigid behavior focused on food.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (self-starvation), and bulimia (bingeing and purging) and compulsive overeating. Anorexics are often thin to the point of emaciation, but are afraid to gain weight. They may have symptoms caused by severe weight loss: dry skin and hair, cold hands and feet, general weakness, constipation and digestive problems, insomnia, and amenorrhea (loss of menstrual periods). As the weight loss progresses, more severe problems may develop such as increased susceptibility to infections, stress fractures, ketosis (severe chemical imbalances), and weaknesses of the heart muscle, which can lead to death.

Bulimics may be of average or slightly above average weight, usually do most of their binging and purging secretly, and have rapid weight gains and losses. They purge through self-induced vomiting, abusing laxatives and diuretics, fasting, or overexercising, and are subject to medical problems caused by their purging methods as well as their eating habits. Medical problems include dehydration, constipation and digestive disorders, severe dental problems, and muscle weakness. As bulimia progresses, ulcers and life-threatening heart irregularities may develop.

Many anorexics may periodically binge and purge like bulimics. They suffer from a combination of anorexic and bulimic symptoms.

Compulsive overeaters are usually overweight and may become obese. As their weight increases they may begin to suffer from shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and joint problems. If they become severely obese, their problems can progress to osteoarthritis and life-threatening disorders such as heart and gall bladder diseases and diabetes.

Signs of Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders spend a lot of time thinking about eating, food, weight, and body image - they may count and recount the calories in their meals, weigh themselves many times a day, and place themselves on severely restricted diets, regardless of their weight. They often “feel fat” when their weight is normal or abnormally low, or feel uncomfortable after consuming a normal sized or small meal. Generally, they categorize foods as “good” or “bad”, and make judgments about themselves based on how well they control what they eat. Believing that others also are judging them based on their control of food, they frequently feel anxious eating when people are around.


If you starve or fast:

Learn what is a healthy weight for you. Then find out how many calories and servings from the different food groups you need each day to achieve and maintain it. Make a daily meal and snack plan and try to stick to it, regardless of whether you feel hungry or interested in the food.

If you binge and diet:

Work toward ending the cycle of bingeing, feeling guilty, dieting, getting too hungry, and bingeing again. Increase the amount of calories in your diet and decrease the amount of calories in your binges. And try some of the tips for overeaters/bingers.

If you overeat/binge:

  • Buy limited amounts of food. Don’t shop when you’re hungry and don’t overstock.
  • Avoid impulse buying - make a shopping list and stick to it.
  • Stabilize your eating habits - eat at regular times and choose healthful foods.
  • Put your meal on your plate before you sit down and don’t bring extra food to the table.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Stop as soon as you feel full. You can always eat again.
  • Keep healthful snacks handy.

Regardless of the type of eating problems you are having, you can help yourself by:

  • learning about good nutrition
  • finding your triggers. Once you know the situations that trigger your urges to binge, starve, or otherwise abuse food, you can reprogram your thoughts and plan other activities.
  • accepting that setbacks are part of progress. Look at them as opportunities to learn more about your eating habits. Feeling guilty only sets the stage for longer relapses.
  • refusing to buy into society's unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness.

Resources at Iona College:

Health Services (914) 633-2548
Counseling Center (914) 633-2038