Am I anorexic?

Originally Published: December 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 24, 2012
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Alice,

In the last few months I have lost about ten pounds. I went from being 5'5" and 122 pounds to 112. I exercise in the afternoon and at night. I also eat two meals a day. I eat a hearty breakfast (two bagels and a bowl of oatmeal). I skip lunch or simply have an apple. For dinner I have a very large salad and a fruit salad and rice cakes. I put either egg whites or tuna in my salad for protein. Considering my two hour a day rigorous exercise routine, am I eating enough? I don't eat any fat because I fear that it will make me fat, although intellectually I know it won't, and as a result I no longer menstruate. Am I anorexic although I feel healthy, run six miles a day, lift weights, eat seemingly large portions (perhaps large portions are insignificant when they are vegetables and fruits?), and look muscular and healthy (although I often think I am too fat)? What is wrong with me? My friends and family tell me I have an eating disorder. Do I?

—Anyone who goes to the gym knows me

Dear Anyone who goes to the gym knows me,

Anorexia can be a scary word, and it takes a lot of courage to consider the fact that you may have an eating disorder. Based on your description, it sounds like your friends and family are concerned about you. Perhaps they have picked on the fact that you may be struggling with healthy versus unhealthy eating and exercise habits. Talking with a health care provider, nutritionist, or even a therapist may help you identify ways to stay strong, both physically and emotionally.  

Balance is the key to healthy eating and exercise. A nutritious diet includes a variety of foods from all the major food groups, including a small amount of fat each day. Since your daily meals consist mostly of carbs, fruits, and veggies you may be missing out on important nutrients found in other food groups. Also, losing weight and skipping meals are important signs that you may not be getting enough calories for your activity level.

Sometimes, unhealthy eating and/or exercise habits can develop into a more serious problem. Anorexia is a form of disordered eating characterized by an obsession with food, weight, and body shape. According to the Mayo Clinic, some physical signs of anorexia include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Thin appearance
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Fatigue, dizziness or fainting
  • Dry skin, hair, or nails
  • Soft, downy hair covering the body
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Constipation
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Osteoporosis

Despite the outward emphasis on food, the root causes of anorexia often have more to do with self-esteem and/or control over emotional issues completely unrelated to diet or exercise. For this reason, it may be helpful to talk with a therapist if you are worried about your recent weight loss and eating habits. At Columbia, there are several resources for students with concerns about healthy versus disordered eating. Medical Services has put together an Eating Disorders Team. This group is comprised of physical and mental health professionals who focus on nutrition and eating concerns. To make an appointment with a health care provider on the team, call x4-2284 or log on to Open Communicator. You can also call Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at x4-2878 to talk with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. After your initial visit at CPS, you may want to consider the Eating Concerns Group. If you are off-campus, this related question, Eating disorder support resources on the Web, offers a variety of online supports.

You've already taken a brave first step just by considering the fact that your eating and exercise habits might not be healthy. By talking with a health professional about your concerns, you can gather the support you need to keep running strong.

Alice