Health & Safety

How can I tell if my student has an eating disorder?

(This is the first in a series of three articles. If you would like to know more about  how to have a conversation with your student about eating disorders, or what treatment options are available, please follow the links.)

College is an incredibly challenging and stressful time for your student.

But the truth is, when your student is stressed, so are you! You care about her wellbeing, and watching her stress and frustrations grow can raise concerns about her health.

One of the most difficult and predominant issues to deal with among college youth is the eating disorder epidemic. While it is more prominent with women, men can also struggle with eating disorders. In order to deal with this serious issue, it’s important for you as a parent to know how to identify some of the early warning signs and symptoms.

So how do you know if your student has an eating disorder?

Bulimia (where a person binges and purges) and anorexia (where a person restricts their food intake) are the primary types of eating disorders among this age group.

Some people view eating disorders as an insecurity issue, but the truth is, their impact can be more complex and far-reaching.

Eating disorders cause risk for everything from heart trouble to mineral deficiencies, weakness, dehydration, fatigue, stomach ulcers, and dental problems. Without proper treatment, eating disorders can have serious and lasting impacts.

Because of the nature of this concern, identifying an eating disorder is vital to the wellbeing of your student. Here are some steps to help you identify anorexia or bulimia:

  • Look for significant changes in your student’s weight, mood, and sleep habits
  • Note sudden changes in eating habits, such as cutting food into small pieces, chewing excessively, or a refusal to eat with family and friends (eating in private)
  • Be aware of excessive calorie counting or jumping from diet to diet, possibly accompanied by compulsive exercising
  • Look for dental concerns: loss of tooth enamel can indicate bulimic habits
  • If you become aware of or your student informs you that their menstrual cycle is off, this may indicate a nutritional deficiency that may or may not be tied to an eating disorder
  • Look for signs of bulimia like excessive indulgence followed by extended trips to the bathroom
  • Listen to your student’s comments on their body and self-image

If these or any other notable changes concern you, seek help immediately. Many times students with eating disorders are completely unaware that they have them. The longer they go on, the greater psychological and physical damage they can cause. Medical and psychological care are essential for victims of eating disorders.

You can read more about eating disorder symptoms here.
For advice on how to speak to your student about eating disorders click here.
For information about the different resources to help deal with an eating disorder click here.

Entrepreneur and personal trainer Karen Jashinsky is the founder of O2 MAX, a nationwide fitness and media company based in Santa Monica, CA. O2 MAX is a revolutionary fitness solution that combines online tools, social media, and real world workouts to provide an adaptable and personalized fitness regimen for students and busy people. Karen received her MBA in Entrepreneurial from USC, and currently teaches the NASM curriculum to aspiring personal trainers. She is the recipient of the first Emerging Female Leader Award by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). In 2007 IHRSA named her one of the 25 most influential young leaders in the fitness industry.


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