How to treat, find help for an eating disorder

A UAB dietitian answers questions about eating disorders to raise awareness about the illnesses during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is from Feb. 25-March 3.

EatingJoomlaAn estimated 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the United States, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. As part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is Feb. 25 to March 3, Amie Guice, a dietitian at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, answers questions about the most common eating disorders college students face and provides information about resources to help students recover from their illness.

What are the most common types of eating disorders seen on college campuses?

“There are several different eating disorder diagnoses (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder being the most well-known), and all of these diagnoses can be seen on college campuses,” Guice said.

However, there is one type of eating disorder that is more common than others.

“Binge eating disorder (BED) is more common than anorexia and bulimia combined,” Guice explained. “BED, specifically, commonly begins in late teen years or early 20s, so college students are particularly susceptible.”

Guice says dieting significantly increases the risk for binge eating, as dieting is a significant predictor of a developing eating disorder.

Exercise is another factor that plays a role in developing an eating disorder.

“It is common for individuals with eating disorders to have an unhealthy relationship with exercise, as well. It’s been estimated that 90-95 percent of college students with an eating disorder also belong to some type of gym or fitness facility.”

Are women more likely to develop an eating disorder than men?

“Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders can affect people of any age, sex, gender, race, and socioeconomic group,” Guice says. “Statistically, eating disorders are more common in females than males, but the statistics likely underestimate the prevalence of eating disorders in males because males are less likely to report their eating disorder behaviors.”

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of American College Health, 3.6 percent of males at a large university had positive screens for eating disorders. In this particular study, the female-to-male ratio was 3-to-1.

There is also an increase in the number of male and non-binary individuals who are seeking help for eating disorders.

What causes an eating disorder?

“The sociocultural idealization of thinness largely contributes to the development of eating disorders; weight stigma has been found to be a significant risk factor for depression, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction,” Guice explained. “With that being said, eating disorders are never caused by just one factor. Instead, there are a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors that are present. Biological predisposition, environmental factors, and significant events/life stressors all play a role in the creation of an eating disorder.”

How do you treat an eating disorder?

“Treatment for eating disorders can be delivered at various levels of care and using different types of psychotherapy,” Guice says. “Ultimately, the primary goals of treatment are to fully eliminate the eating disorder behaviors, establish healthy eating patterns and healthy relationships with food, body, self, and others, distinguish self from the eating disorder, identify the needs that are being met by the eating disorder and find alternative ways to get those needs met, increase self-directedness, and address co-occurring diagnoses, ailments, and symptoms.”

What services are available to UAB students who may have an eating disorder?

“The UAB Student Health and Wellness Center has an Eating Disorder Treatment Team that includes physicians, nurse practitioners, counselors, an athletic trainer, and me,” Guice says. “We help students who know or think they may have an eating disorder, are not sure that they have an eating disorder but suspect that they may have an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise, and/or their body, and those who experience any degree of body dissatisfaction.”

Outside of UAB, anyone who is in need of support or treatment options for themselves or a loved one may contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline by calling 1-800-931-2237 or utilizing the instant message option at