Eating Disorders Assessment


What are eating disorders?

The “central and cardinal feature of the eating disorders is the distorted attitude toward weight, eating and fatness that breeds the characteristic fear of fatness.” (Hsu, L.K. G. (1990). Eating disorders: New York: Guilford Press, p.12)

While the characteristics of different eating disorders vary (see below), disordered eating occurs on a continuum. Even if an individual does not meet all of the criteria that mental health professionals use to diagnosis these specific eating disorders, there still may be a problem to be addressed.

  • ANOREXIA NERVOSA: Essential features include that the individual refuses to maintain a minimally normal body weight, is intensely afraid of gaining weight, and exhibits a significant disturbance in the perception of the shape or size of his or her body. Women with anorexia nervosa do not have menstrual periods. A low body weight is maintained either through restricting or through inappropriate compensatory methods (vomiting, excessive exercise, or the use of laxatives and/or diuretics).
  • BULIMIA NERVOSA: Binge eating is followed by inappropriate compensatory methods to prevent weight gain. In addition, the self-evaluation of individuals with this disorder is excessively influenced by body shape and weight.
  • BINGE-EATING DISORDER: A loss of control over eating results in binges, as in bulimia nervosa, but no methods are used to compensate for the ingestion of the large amount of food is taken.

What are warning signs of eating disorders?

  • Fear or anxiety of getting fat in spite of obvious thinness
  • Eating large amounts of food without any obvious weight gain
  • Denial of hunger, even though she/he has not eaten
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Excuses self from the table immediately following meals or makes other frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Loss of a significant amount of weight (not because of illness)
  • Excessive exercise
  • Distorted body image (sees self as fat although actually thin)
  • Focus on food and cooking, yet rarely eats
  • Use of diet pills, laxatives, water pills
  • Preoccupation with food, yet rarely eats
  • Dresses in ways to mask body (wears layers of clothing or more clothing than warranted for the weather)
  • Absence of or irregular periods in women

What is the prevalence of eating disorders and disordered eating?

  • 85% of American women are dissatisfied with their weight
  • More than 5 million Americans suffer from eating disorders
  • 10% of those with eating disorders are males
  • 5% of adolescent and young adult women and 1% of men have eating disorders.
  • 15% of young women have substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors
  • College women 18-22 years have higher rates of bulimia than those females younger, not in college, or over 21
  • Caucasian women are at greater risk for the development of eating disorders than are women of other ethnic groups.
  • Disordered eating among girls/women in certain sports has been found to be as high as 62% (see Athletes and Eating Disorders)

What aspects of the college environment contribute to the development of eating disorders?

  • Belief that appearance is the key to success in attracting potential dating partners
  • Competition among females to gain the attention of the same men
  • Access to unlimited amounts of food in dining halls
  • Fear of the dreaded “freshman 15”
  • Academic and financial stress
  • Participation in sports where weight and appearance are perceived to effect success
  • Certain majors and career choices which emphasize health and fitness may reinforce distorted views about eating and weight
  • A way of coping with the stress associated with the transition to college and the expectations of this new environment...or the stress of impending college graduation and the changes of that transition.

What individual factors contribute to eating disorders?

  • High self expectations/perfectionism
  • Extreme need for approval
  • All or nothing thinking
  • Low self-esteem/poor body image
  • Pre-existing anxiety or depression

How can I help a friend, partner or family member who is struggling with an eating disorder?

  • Plant Seeds, Not Trees - Approaching several times will likely be needed
  • Sharing is Caring - Use “I” statements, not “You” statements
  • Blaming is Shaming - Do not blame or demand change
  • Be Specific About Your Concerns - Refer to actual behaviors that you notice, not your analysis or what you suspect
  • Focus on Emotions and Health - Emphasizing looks (even if a compliment) may perpetuate the problem
  • Be Calm - If you are angry or frustrated, it’s not the time to help

How can I protect myself from becoming a wounded ally of my friend who suffers from an eating disorder?

If you become so involved with the person who has an eating disorder that your own needs are not met, you have less to offer that person. If you begin to experience some of the following signs, it could be an indication that you need to pull back a little.

  • The quality of your days is determined by whether the person you are supporting has a “good day” or a “bad day.”
  • You find yourself not sharing with others the daily challenges and joys that make up your own life.
  • You find yourself “investigating” or “spying”, looking for signs that your friend, partner, or family member is engaging in eating disordered behavior.
  • You begin to feel increasingly angry and resentful when you are around the person with an eating disorder.


What treatment is available on the NIU campus?

NIU has a nationally recognized treatment model for those with eating disorders and utilizes a multidisciplinary team approach. This team’s philosophy is that individuals with eating disorders are best served by having caregivers from a variety of disciplines who can address the psychological, medical, nutritional, and other aspects of the eating disorder. To this end, students seeking services for an eating disorder are encouraged to utilize the assistance of the therapist(s), physician, nutritionist(s), and psychiatrist on the team. Aspects of treatment can be initiated in the following ways:

  • Eating Disorder Assessment and Counseling: Counseling and Student Development Center, 200 Campus Life Building, 753-1206
  • Assessment of the Usefulness of Medication: Psychiatry, University Health Service, 753-1311
  • Medical Assessment and Follow-up: University Health Service, 753-1311
  • Nutritional Counseling: University Health Service, 753-1311

In addition, students may seek assistance through residence hall staff and, for student athletes, through the Athletic Trainers in Intercollegiate Athletics, 753-1957.