Disordered Eating Services

Many students struggle with their relationship with their bodies and food during their college experience. For some, these experiences may be new; for some, this may be something they have carried for a while. At Student Counseling Services (SCS), we offer a variety of services to help students with disordered eating and body image concerns.

SCS offers an opportunity for students to explore their relationship with their bodies and food through various services described below. Please call SCS at 515-294-5056 during business hours to schedule an initial appointment to learn more about our services and see if it would be a good fit.

Group Therapy (Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Eating Disorders)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Eating Disorders (DBT for EDs) is a semester-long skill-based group for students experiencing a range of body image, disordered eating, or eating disorder concerns. This group comprises five modules: Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Openness/Flexibility. DBT skills help students who wish to improve their ability to regulate emotions, tolerate distress, be mindful and present in the given moment, communicate and interact effectively with others, and become more open and flexible to new experiences; all of which are useful in healing your relationship with food and body. Current time: Tuesdays 1 pm-2:30 pm

Brief Individual Therapy

SCS offers individual counseling sessions that focus on food and body concerns using a brief therapy model. Most students utilize anywhere from 4-8 sessions total, which are scheduled on a bi-weekly basis.

Referral Services

Depending on your situation and circumstances, entities involved with your care may include a mental health provider, campus dietitian, a health care provider, and a movement specialist. Care may not always involve all of these entities, but particularly in the case of eating disorders or disordered eating, it is crucial to have these various team members in place to coordinate a well-rounded care plan. SCS can help you determine the most appropriate action plan and connect you to those resources on and off campus.

Additional Services at Iowa State

As a part of the Student Health and Wellness unit, we partner with Thielen Student Health Center and Student Wellness to support your holistic wellbeing. We help students connect with ISU Dietetic services. In addition to 1:1 nutrition counseling, the dietitians can also enroll students in the self-guided Joyful Eating courses on Canvas. Currently, there are 5 topics available: Meal Planning, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Health at Every Size, Diabetes & Intuitive Eating, and Joyful Eating

How do students connect to an Iowa State dietitian? 

  • Students can complete a dietary intake form to get the process started at cyclonehealth.org.
  • There’s a tile toward the bottom that says Nutrition Counseling Intake Form. Completing the form is the quickest way to get connected to nutrition services.

Additional Information and Resources Beyond Iowa State University

Eating Disorders and Body Image

Many college students struggle with accepting and appreciating their physical appearance, which is often made more difficult by lifestyle changes inherent in the college experience. A positive body image is crucial to college success because it promotes physical and mental well-being. 

At Student Counseling Services, we hope to assist you with developing a better relationship with your body by connecting you with available resources. We have experienced staff who can provide mental health services to students with eating and body image concerns. To speak with one of our providers, please call (515)-294-5056.

Below you will find information about common experiences for students with body image concerns and suggestions for developing a positive body image. You can also learn about available local and national resources that may further help you. 

What is an eating disorder? 

Eating disorders are psychological disorders associated with irregular eating habits and extreme distress about body weight and/or shape. They are impacted by biological, psychological, and social factors in our everyday lives and can have serious health consequences.

The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa typically engage in self-starvation and demonstrate significant weight loss. Individuals with bulimia nervosa typically experience episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors (such as purging or excessive exercise) to counteract episodes of binge eating. Individuals with binge eating disorder typically experience recurrent episodes of binge eating in which they feel out of control and without regular use of compensatory behaviors.

However, most individuals diagnosed with eating disorders fall into the Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) diagnosis. This means that an individual might meet some criteria for an eating disorder that causes significant distress or impairment in their daily lives, but not all the criteria. This diagnosis was developed to include individuals who did not meet the strict criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa but still had a significant eating disorder. Symptoms of an eating disorder don’t always fall into specific categories of specific diagnoses. So, if disordered eating symptoms are impacting your functioning or a loved one’s functioning and well-being, it could still meet a diagnosis and should be addressed.

Research on eating disorders has increased over the past few years and helps to combat stereotypes and misunderstandings related to eating disorders.

It’s not just about the food.

Research indicates that the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is our society’s idealization of thinness and portrayal of this in social media and various entertainment outlets. Golden and colleagues (2016) found that 40% of overweight girls and 37% of overweight boys experience teasing from peers or family members about their weight. This, in turn, can lead to weight gain, binge eating, and extreme measures to control weight.

Research also indicates that dieting was one of the most important predictors of eating disorder development in a study of 14 and 15-year-old girls. They found that those who dieted moderately were FIVE times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not. Another study of teenage girls found that social media users were more likely to have an internalized drive for thinness and were overly critical of their body weight/shape.

One of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders is that food is “causing the problem,” and they should “just eat.” Most people don’t realize that restricting food intake or compulsively exercising is a way of coping with something else in that person’s life. This could be stress from school, pressure from athletic coaches to maintain performance standards, lack of control in all areas of your life, or depression. Therefore, telling someone with an eating disorder to “just eat” is not only unhelpful but perpetuates the stereotypes and judgments associated with eating disorders.

Culbert, K. M., Racine, S. E., & Klump, K. L. (2015). Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 56(11), 1141-1164. 

Golden, N. H., Schneider, M., & Wood, C. (2016). Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(3). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1649 

Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2013). NetGirls: The Internet, Facebook, and body image concern in adolescent girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 46, 630–633. doi:10.1002/eat.22141. 

Warning Signs

Eating disorders can sometimes be difficult to recognize in our friends and family. There are emotional, behavioral, and physical warning signs that you or a loved one might have an eating disorder. Here are some (but not all) things to look out for:

  • Preoccupation with food, weight, calorie intake, dieting, or body image
  • Abnormal, secretive, or ritualized food or eating habits
  • Withdrawal from usual activities and friends
  • Compulsive excessive exercise
  • Discoloration or staining of teeth
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, or irritability
  • Evidence of purging behaviors (i.e., frequent trips to the bathroom, periods of fasting, self-induced vomiting)
  • Evidence of binge eating (i.e., disappearances of large amounts of food)

“I’m worried about you.”

It can be difficult to talk about your worries for someone when it is friends or family. However, if you notice some of these warning signs, it is appropriate for you to discuss your concerns in a supportive and caring way. One of the first things to do before approaching a friend or family member about some of the warning signs you notice is to educate yourself on eating disorders. It’s important to recognize that it’s not “just about the food.” Individuals with eating disorders typically experience anxiety, shame, depression, guilt, or even denial. Understanding this can help you empathize with what your loved one might be going through. It’s also important to discuss your concerns in a safe and comfortable environment, like home. It may be helpful to avoid meal times or times in which either of you are tired, irritable, or emotional.

Finally, it’s time to talk to your loved one. A few communication tips can be beneficial when you want to express care and concern for a friend or family member.

  • Using ‘I’ Statements
    • “I’m worried about you because I see you use the restroom immediately after every meal.”
    • “I care about you and hate to see you so upset after we get food.”
  • Reassuring your loved one that it’s safe to talk to you
    • “I love you so much and only want to see you feel better.”
    • “I love you and will never judge you. You can always talk to me.”
  • Encouraging your loved one to express how they feel, not just saying how you feel
    • “How has this been for you?”
    • “How have you been feeling?”
  • Listen actively and respectfully to what your loved one has to say
  • Encourage your loved one to seek help and express that you will be there to support them
    • “You can always talk to me, and I will be here to listen, but it might be helpful to talk to someone who has more knowledge on how to help you feel better.”

It can be hard to know how to help a friend or a family member with an eating disorder. The following is a list of resources to help you understand more about eating disorders and how to help a loved one:

We know that eating disorders are complex, and it can be difficult to find help and the information provided here is not exhaustive. Student Counseling Services at Iowa State University offers free individual and group counseling if you need someone to talk to or would like to learn about different ways to better understand eating disorders. Call (515) 294-5056 to schedule an initial appointment.

What is Body Image?

Body image is defined as how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your appearance, including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations.
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.
  • How you physically experience or feel in your body.

Positive body image is an accurate, or true, perception of your body, in which you view your body as it really is without judgment. Body positivity, or body satisfaction, is when you feel comfortable and confident in your body, accept your natural body, and recognize that your body does not define your character and value as a person. This also acknowledges that our relationship with our body can fluctuate like any other relationship. Our bodies do not define our worth.

Negative body image, in contrast, is an inaccurate or distorted perception of your body in which you view your body with judgment. Body negativity, or body dissatisfaction, typically involves feelings of shame, disgust, anxiety, sadness, and self-consciousness. If you experience body negativity, you may also feel that your body is flawed compared to others and may be at a higher risk of experiencing depression, social isolation, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.

For more information/resources:

Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center is an international organization offering a comprehensive eating disorder treatment professionals database.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) provides information about eating disorders and advocacy, sponsors support groups, and makes referrals by hotline and email. They also offer information in Spanish.

National Eating Disorders Association offers educational materials and prevention programs and sponsors Eating Disorders Awareness Week.