How Are Eating Issues Treated in Student Health and Counseling?

Treatment for eating issues is provided in many forms, including individual therapy, group counseling, nutrition therapy, medical management with a nurse practitioner, and psychiatric consultation. A person may be involved in one or all of the above services, depending on individual needs. Students who are worried about their eating may come to Student Health and Counseling for an initial intake appointment (with no obligation to return for further counseling), to determine whether they may benefit from ongoing care. However, it is up the student to determine if she wants treatment and can collaborate with the therapist to determine what resources best fit her needs. All services within Student Health and Counseling are confidential, so privacy will be maintained.

Why Is Disrupted Eating A Big Deal On College Campuses?

Eating disorders and sub-threshold disordered eating is a severe problem across college campuses. When entering college, individuals leave behind the familiar surroundings of their home, friends and community. College can be wonderfully exciting; full of new adventures and experiences. Yet, at times, it can also be confusing, lonely, and overwhelming. People may experience living independently for the first time, managing their diet and nutrition on their own, feeling uncertain about their future, and pressured by academic and social stressors. In addition, many people feel they don’t fit in or are not accepted, worry about living up to their parents’ expectations, or fear taking on the responsibilities of adulthood.

Western culture sets ideals for beauty that are unrealistic for the majority of people, as it emphasizes extreme thinness (for females) or hyper-muscularity (for males) as the measure of physical attractiveness. The Carleton community may unintentionally foster these expectations. Once academic, social, and athletic pressure is added to the mix, students may feel overwhelmed or lack confidence in their ability to meet the expectations, so turn to disordered eating in an attempt to fit the ideal, cope with the stress, or manage uncomfortable emotions.

What Are Eating Disorders?

Bulimia, and Binge-Eating (or Compulsive-Overeating) are the three primary diagnoses of Eating Disorders, which affect both males and females. These disorders may have severe emotional and physical consequences, and can even be fatal. However, it is important to emphasize that many people struggle with “sub-threshold” disordered eating patterns or body image issues that may not fully fit the criteria for one of the above mentioned eating disorders. Disordered eating is often very disruptive to the person’s mental and physical health, and affects both social and academic functioning. Therefore, it is important to receive support and treatment for all forms of disordered eating, whether or not it meets formal criteria for an eating disorder.

How Do I Help A Friend?

If you are worried about a friend who you think may be struggling with disordered eating or body image issues, consider sharing your concerns with him/her. It is important to:

  • Communicate your concerns honestly, but in a caring, empathic, and non-judgmental manner. Point out some of the behaviors that demonstrate why you are concerned about your friend’s health, happiness and safety.
  • Set up a time to talk when you will have privacy, little distraction, and enough time to have a lengthy discussion.
  • Be aware that your friend may become angry or defensive, and respect those feelings. Don’t get into a battle of wills or try to convince your friend to see it your way. Simply re-state your feelings and leave yourself open to be a supportive listener or someone to seek out at a later date.
  • Encourage that your friend seek professional help. Inform your friend of the resources on campus, including Student Health and Counseling. You may want to offer to go with your friend if that would help. Your friend can see a counselor within Student Health and Counseling or can receive referrals to professionals in the Twin Cities Metro area.
  • If your friend isn’t willing to seek help and you are still concerned, don’t agree to keep this a secret. Notify another member of the Carleton community about your concerns, such as a SWA, RA, Hall Director, Counselor, Chaplin, or Dean, so they can help you decide what to do next.
  • Consider getting help for yourself, as this can be an overwhelming process. Counselors in Student Health and Counseling are happy to talk with you about your concerns.

Online Mental Health Screening

Wondering if your or someone you’re concerned about might be dealing with an eating disorder? Take one of our ANONYMOUS online mental health screenings which assess a number of issues including anxiety, depression, bipolar, eating disorder, alcohol use disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. You (and only you) will get results immediately.  There are also additional articles and information resources focused on the above content areas.