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Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a dangerous mental illness that affects both men and women. Eating disorders occur when eating, exercise and body weight/shape become an unhealthy preoccupation in your life.

There are a variety of eating disorders, each with different characteristics and causes. However, in general, eating disorder cases can be linked to low self-esteem and an attempt to deal with underlying psychological issues through practicing an unhealthy relationship with food.

Disordered eating refers to a wide range of abnormal eating behaviors, such as chronic restrained eating, compulsive eating and habitual dieting. It includes irregular, chaotic eating patterns, which may reflect some but not all symptoms of recognized eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Behaviors or relationships with food that are obsessive, irregular or chaotic may fall under the category of disordered eating when they cause a level of discomfort or disruption to your life.

Disordered eating negatively impacts your emotional, social and physical well-being. While a behavioral pattern may not fall under a specified category of eating disorder, it can still have a widespread and destructive impact on your life. It is not uncommon for a person to progress from one eating disorder to another.

Disordered eating patterns may lead to fatigue, depression, malnutrition or decreased concentration, depending on the nature of the behavior. A common misconception is that eating disorders are a fad or an attention-seeking attempt. The truth is that eating disorders are serious, and, in some cases, fatal mental illnesses that often require psychological and/or physical intervention to promote recovery.

Do you identify with the following statements?

  • I am preoccupied with a desire to be thinner.
  • I am terrified about gaining weight.
  • I feel out of control around food.
  • I feel guilt or shame after eating.
  • I obsess about calorie intake and/or weight.
  • I vomit after meals.
  • I use laxatives, diet pills or diuretics to control weight.
  • I avoid particular foods or food groups.
  • I frequently skip meals to control weight.
  • I rarely take a day off from exercise.
  • People are concerned with my eating and/or exercise.

If you answered “yes” to any of these statements, we urge you to contact the UK Eating Concerns Treatment Team.

  • Support

    University of Kentucky Eating Concerns Treatment Team (ECTT)

    Treatment team approach

    Because eating disorders are complex, treatment requires a team approach. This on-campus multidisciplinary method for current UK students includes psychological, nutritional, psychiatric, medical evaluation and treatment, as appropriate. The treatment team communicates regularly as well as meets monthly to maintain continuity of care. 

    Whether you have an eating disorder or concerns in regards to eating behaviors or body dissatisfaction, we are here to help. We can also collaborate with non-UK clinicians if you already have a treatment plan in place.

    What treatment options are available?

    Therapy

    Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical conditions that can have life-threatening consequences. Emotional/psychological aspects of an eating concern can be triggered when an individual experiences negative body image, body dissatisfaction, or excessive thoughts about food, dieting and weight. During an initial consultation with a clinician, you will be asked questions regarding your eating behaviors, thoughts and emotions, and you will discuss further treatment options. Therapy can help improve your mental health through developing healthier coping mechanisms, increasing self-esteem and working through various issues that may contribute to your eating concerns. 

    Nutrition counseling

    Your dietitian will work with you to understand your eating behaviors and patterns as well as thoughts about weight, body and food. Individualized recommendations will be made in regards to nutritional needs, meal planning, and weight restoration or stabilization. Your dietitian will provide nutrition education on a variety of topics and areas of concern. Ongoing support (weekly to monthly) will be provided so that you can establish a healthy relationship with food and “normalized” eating. 

    Behavioral health

    UK Behavioral Health can help whether you need continued care for an existing psychological condition, require additional support or guidance with new or unexpected psychological concerns, or have an acute need for psychiatric care. The first visit to Behavioral Health usually involves a brief discussion about your background and the nature of your current problem. This helps clarify your needs and develop a treatment plan. Medication may be recommended. 

    Medical evaluation

    A medical evaluation by a clinician is imperative to assess for any complications that may result from malnutrition, purging, bingeing, laxative, diuretic and/or diet pill use.  The evaluation may include any of the following: general physical exam, vital signs, lab work, electrocardiogram (EKG) and bone density scan. These are all outpatient services. Depending on the severity of the eating disorder, it may be possible that a higher level of care might be needed. The ECTT will work with you and your family in providing appropriate referrals and/or recommendations. 

  • How to find help

    Some students prefer to start with therapy while others prefer a medical evaluation or nutrition session first. Whichever route you choose, we will make sure to get you connected with the appropriate members of the team.

    UK Counseling Center

    University Health Service (UHS)

    • Visit ukhealthcare.uky.edu/uhs
    • Nutrition counseling
      • For an appointment, please call 859-323-2778 (no online scheduling option available).
    • Behavioral health
      • For an appointment, please call 859-323-5511 or schedule online through MyUK.
    • Primary and GYN/GU Care
    • For an appointment, please call 859-323-2778 or schedule online through MyUK.