Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Microwave safety

Dear Radiating,

The amount of radiation emitted from a microwave is set and monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a standard that is said to be safe for home use. The radiation itself is “non-ionizing,” which makes it less harmful than the radiation of X-rays. Radiation exposure from a home microwave does not pose any risks to your baby as long as your microwave’s safety mechanisms function properly. There is the potential of radiation leakage if the seal is cracked or caked with food, if the microwave has been dropped, or if a fire has occurred inside. In any of these cases, the microwave should be replaced. However, if your microwave is in good working order and you want to be extra safe, standing four feet away from the oven dramatically reduces radiation exposure — to just 1/100th of the maximum amount considered safe. As long as you keep your baby away from the radiation contained within the oven, you have nothing to worry about. Radiation cannot seep into the food or beverages you microwave.

However, there is a very real danger of serious burns from hot containers, overheated foods, and injury from exploding foods. The main precaution to take after heating milk in the microwave for babies is to be sure that there are no "hot spots." "Hot spots" are developed when microwaves heat foods unevenly, causing some sections to become much hotter than others. When the milk is checked for heat level, it may feel fine, although there may be some portions that are burning hot. It is recommended that you shake the bottle and let it stand for thirty seconds before checking the temperature. Other sources suggest not using the microwave to heat infant foods — neither bottles of formula nor baby food — because the uneven heat can severely burn a baby’s mouth.

According to the FDA, there is no additional damage to milk proteins or sugars when heated with a microwave rather than conventional oven or stove. In general, microwaves cook food faster and destroy fewer vitamins than conventional cooking methods. You may have read about research that shows a possible loss of human milk's immunologic qualities after microwaving, but further studies are necessary to support this. There is also the option of heating milk the old-fashioned way, on the stovetop.

If you do use the microwave, here are a few tips:

  • Prick cooking pouches and foods that have tight skins (e.g., tomatoes, hot dogs) to release steam as they cook.
  • Never cook eggs in the shell. If you crack an egg open to cook in the microwave, be sure to prick the yolk before cooking.
  • Remove lids and caps from containers, and cover with microwaveable plastic wrap (don't let it touch food), waxed paper, or parchment paper for cooking.
  • Arrange the food evenly and add liquid if necessary. Steam helps to destroy harmful bacteria and encourages uniform heating.
  • Never use foam trays, empty plastic containers (such as yogurt cartons), or takeout containers in the microwave. These materials can overheat and become warped, which will allow harmful chemicals to penetrate your food. Only use cookware that is specifically labeled as “microwave safe.”
  • Never turn on an empty microwave. Try keeping a glass of water or a box of baking soda in the oven just in case.
  • Regularly clean the inside walls, the door, and the seal of your microwave with a mild detergent and water.
  • Never operate the oven when something is caught in the door.
  • Remove metal twist ties from bags. They act as antennae and can cause a fire.
  • Never use brown paper bags for popping popcorn. They can catch fire, too.

(Adapted from Environmental Nutrition)

If you have further questions about microwave safety or child food preparation, you can contact your child’s pediatrician. Generally, however, you can rest assured that as long as your microwave works properly, your baby will not ingest harmful radiation.


"Good" and "bad" cholesterol

Dear Reader,

Cholesterol is a necessary component for living cells. However, high levels of blood cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. To complicate matters even more, blood cholesterol can be divided into two types, one of which actually lowers the risk of heart disease! To get the story on cholesterol straight, it's necessary to understand something about how cholesterol works in the body and how it can contribute to heart disease.

Most of the cholesterol in the body is produced by the liver. A significantly smaller amount comes from dietary sources, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products. Cholesterol travels throughout the body via the blood stream, being absorbed by cells along the way to be used for important processes, such as hormone production and cell membrane repair. Because it isn't water soluble, cholesterol is ferried along the bloodstream encased in protein. These cholesterol-filled protein orbs are called lipoproteins. Lipoproteins come in a variety of sizes that behave differently from one another. Broadly, health care providers and scientists talk about low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

The role of both types of cholesterol in heart disease centers around the formation of arterial plaques — fatty, filmy deposits on arterial walls. Over time, plaques become hardened, leading to narrow, rigid arteries that impede blood flow and thereby increase the risk of heart attack. Also, smaller plaques sometimes develop blood clots on their surface, which can then detach and go on to block arteries downstream, potentially leading to heart attack. Although the biochemistry involved isn't simple, the take home message is that LDL contributes to the formation of plaques on the artery walls, while HDL helps prevent their formation. Accordingly, LDL is often called "bad" cholesterol while HDL is called "good" cholesterol. (These terms apply only to blood cholesterol; dietary cholesterol is neither good nor bad in this sense.)

For more information on cholesterol and heart disease, read the Related Q&As listed below.


Do you have any information on cholesterol?

Dear Seeking fat,

Cholesterol is a white, waxy lipid (fat) found naturally in the human body. Most cholesterol is produced by the liver, while a smaller amount is ingested directly from meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and other foods of animal origin (plant foods do not contain cholesterol). Cholesterol is involved in many vital life-processes, such as the production of hormones and the repair of cell membranes. To get where it's needed, cholesterol travels through the bloodstream as lipoproteins — fat packaged up in little protein spheres.

Studies have demonstrated that a blood test measuring cholesterol levels can help establish one's risk for heart disease. This test measures the amount of fat found in the bloodstream, including high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and triglycerides (another type of fat molecule). A total cholesterol score is then obtained by putting these three numbers into a mathematical formula. Research has shown that high levels of HDL decrease one's risk for heart disease (hence the term "good" cholesterol), while high LDL levels (a.k.a. "bad" cholesterol) increase one's risk. The medical community currently uses the following guidelines to put these numbers in perspective.


  Desirable Range
Total Cholesterol       < 200 milligrams (mg)/deciliter (dL)
LDL       < 130 mg/dL
HDL       > 60 mg/dL
Triglycerides       < 150 mg/dL


Because the total cholesterol score is a composite that includes both "good" and "bad" cholesterol, this number alone is less useful as an indicator of risk than the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. For example, having a total cholesterol number above 200 mg/dL indicates a statistically greater risk of heart disease, but if this number is arrived at because the HDL number is especially high while the LDL and triglyceride numbers are normal or low, then the risk level may actually be below average. The ideal total cholesterol to HDL ratio is less than 3.5; a ratio of 4.5 is average, while a ratio of 5 or greater is a red flag.


Total Cholesterol/HDL Ratio Guidelines
Ideal: < 3.5
Average: 4.5
Potentially Harmful: = 5


Blood cholesterol levels vary according to genetics as well as lifestyle choices. For example, eating saturated fats is the largest contributor to high blood cholesterol levels. Other lifestyle factors include smoking, which is associated with lowering HDL levels (increasing risk), and regular exercise, which is associated with boosting them (lowering risk).

For more detailed information on cholesterol, read the Related Q&As listed below or visit the American Heart Association web site.


Foods with folic acid

Dear The Bee,

Great question. There are a number of tasty choices for foods rich in folic acid. First, let's look at why it may be important to pay attention to folic acid intake.

Folic acid, also known as folate or folacin, is an important B vitamin that significantly lowers the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Folic acid is important in the synthesis of DNA, which controls cell function and heredity as well as tissue growth. In addition, folate acts with vitamin B-12 to produce red blood cells. Preliminary studies also suggest that folacin may be helpful in preventing cervical cancer.

Most people get an adequate amount of folic acid from the foods they eat. Pregnant women, people taking certain medications, and alcoholic individuals may be at higher risk for folate deficiency. Women of childbearing age (approximately fifteen to forty-five years) are recommended to include 400 micrograms of folic acid in their diets, particularly important before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.

The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate is 180 to 200 micrograms (mcg). Rich dietary sources of folate are recommended over supplements. They include:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Lightly cooked beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sprouts
  • Oranges and grapefruits
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and enriched grain products

One cup (8oz) of orange juice provides half the RDA for folate, underscoring how easy a nutrient it is to consume. Keep in mind that processing food destroys 50 percent to 90 percent of the folate, as it is very susceptible to heat. It is really important to eat raw foods and lightly cooked vegetables as they retain their nutrient value the best when cooked minimally in water — through steaming, stir-frying, or microwaving. Because folic acid is so important during pregnancy, some pregnant women take a multivitamin or supplement with folic acid. However, taking too much folic acid could mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which could be dangerous, meaning that pregnant women should discuss their diet, whether they need folic acid supplementation, and the best potential sources of folic acid for their situation with a health care provider.

Hope this helps you fill your plate with folate!


Low blood sugar

Dear Shaky Sharon,

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, often happens because we go too long without eating. Some symptoms of hypoglycemia may include dizziness, mental confusion, anxiety, shakiness, and weakness. Reactive hypoglycemia is a chain of events. It refers to a state when our blood sugar is low, which causes a person to eat a concentrated sweet, and then insulin is overproduced by our pancreas and our blood sugar drops even further than where it was before. A more serious condition, Spontaneous Hypoglycemia, results in chronic low levels of blood sugar. This is a very rare condition, and medical attention is required.

In a hypoglycemic diet plan, you eat every two to three hours. Mixed meals and snacks, including carbohydrate, protein, and a little fat, are recommended. An easy snack to keep with you that fits this bill is peanut butter crackers, either prepackaged or home made. Other appropriate snacks include low-fat yogurt and low-fat trail mix. Try to avoid eating concentrated sweets, such as candy and sugary drinks, as these can cause blood sugar to drop even further. Finally, drink plenty of water. Many symptoms of in-between meal "lows" are caused by dehydration.

To determine the cause of your hypoglycemia, it best best to see your health care provider. S/he may be able to discuss your individual risk factors for diabetes. S/he may also refer you to a nutritionist, who can help design an eating plan to suit your specific needs. If you are at Columbia, you can make an appointment with Medical Services through Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284.


My friend constantly worries about her weight — how can I get her to stop?

Dear Want to help,

It can be difficult to hear someone you care about constantly putting her or himself down. Your best friend's constant remarks about weight indicate that she feels uneasy about herself. She may be looking for validation to feel better about her body, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, you may not be able to change the way your best friend sees herself, regardless of how many times you tell her she's not fat. You can, however, provide support in several different ways. This may help your friend on her path to seeing herself in a better light. Here are some suggestions:

  • Express yourself. Let your friend know how her constant worrying impacts you. Does it make you sad or stress you out? Are you concerned that her preoccupation with her weight may be impacting other parts of her life? Letting her know these things may motivate her to look at how her behavior is affecting those around her and, most importantly, her own well-being.
  • Model positive behavior. Make an effort to stop talking about diets and "imperfect" body parts. Challenge media images that unrealistically portray women — to yourself and out loud with your family and friends.
  • Be positive and encourage your friend to do the same. Ask her what she likes about herself. Too often people focus on the negative aspects of their bodies and personalities. Rarely do people tell themselves how much they love their bodies or focus on all the amazing things their bodies can do.    
  • Encourage her to seek support. Speaking with a counselor or meeting with a support group may help her deal with her issues in a healthy manner. Columbia students can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC).

Remember, your friend's issues likely go much deeper than the surface. The way a person views her or his body affects self-esteem. A person with high self-esteem has high self-worth and a positive self-image. People with low self-esteem are very critical about themselves. Low self-esteem can have a whole host of negative consequences, including being more at risk of developing eating disorders. Those with severe body image issues may benefit from using antidepressants or cognitive behavior therapy.

Overall, your willingness to help and active seeking out of information is a great start. While your friend's constant questioning may seem pesky, she may be dealing with much greater issues. So equip yourself with knowledge and a positive attitude — she may follow in your footsteps!


Girlfriend with Celiac disease

Dear Boyfriend,

What a better way to show your support than to become educated! Celiac disease leads to malabsorption of nutrients and abnormal immune reactions to gluten (a protein in wheat, rye, and barley). Celiac disease works by damaging or destroying villi when gluten is consumed or used in a product. Celiac disease is genetic, meaning it runs in families. Therefore, people who have Celiac disease in their family may want to get tested. The disease affects approximately 1 out of every 133 people.

The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. In other words, a person with celiac disease should not eat most grains, pasta, cereal, and many processed foods. Gluten is also used in some medications, vitamins, and even lip balm. Therefore, it is important that people with Celiac speak with a pharmacist to see if prescribed medications contain wheat.  Even if a person doesn’t have symptoms, s/he should still completely avoid gluten in order to prevent damage to the intestines and long-term problems.

It is highly important to diagnose this disease because without treatment, people with Celiac can develop complications such as osteoporosis, anemia, and cancer. Although Celiac disease may affect people in different ways, common symptoms of Celiac disease in adults include:

  • Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Bone loss or osteoporosis
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Tingling numbness in the hands and feet
  • Seizures
  • In women, missed menstrual periods, infertility, or recurrent miscarriage
  • Canker sores inside the mouth
  • An itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

So what’s for dinner? A gluten-free diet could include potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour instead of wheat flour. There are also gluten-free breads, pastas, and other products that are labeled "gluten-free." Corn tortillas, rice cake, popcorn, crackers made of rice or corn, rice, pasta made from rice, flax, quinoa, buckwheat are also fine. While oats may not be harmful for most Celiacs, it is best to avoid oat products as they are frequently contaminated with wheat. Also, most gluten-free grain products aren't supplemented with vitamins, so it is important for Celiacs to take a vitamin supplement. Speaking with a registered dietitian can help you and your lady friend come up with delicious and suitable meals. There are also a variety of cookbooks and blogs that cater to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Creating a supportive environment can definitely make life easier for a person with Celiac disease. Here are some tips for you to help your girlfriend manage her health:

  • Provide emotional support.Being diagnosed as a Celiac may be a difficult, life-changing experience. Eating, grocery shopping, going to restaurants, and traveling may become much more challenging — even overwhelming. Therefore, it is extremely important to be gentle, patient, and understanding.
  • Do your research.Asking Go Ask Alice! was a great first step! Continue to stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of Celiac disease. You can also educate yourself on how to make delicious, gluten-free dinners.
  • Remember, wheat-free doesn’t mean gluten-free.There are a whole bunch of products available that are wheat-free but not gluten-free. While someone with a wheat allergy could potentially eat these products, those with Celiac cannot.
  • Be aware of hidden gluten. You may want to call or email food companies for clarification on a product’s ingredients.
  • Understand that even cross-contamination can be dangerous.For a person with Celiac disease, even the tiniest crumb can cause symptoms. Ideally, a person with Celiac will live in a gluten-free household. This eliminates any chance of accidental contamination. If this isn’t possible, the next best option is to keep foods containing gluten in a separate area of the kitchen, and using different pots, pans, cutting boards and utensils to prepare.

For more information, you may want to check out Celiac Disease Foundation and the related questions below. Here’s to health and happiness — for both of you!


How to help a roommate with an eating disorder

Dear For future reference,

Living with someone who has an eating disorder can be incredibly stressful. It is certain that others, similar to yourself, notice unusual eating patterns among friends, loved ones, roommates, partners, etc. that they later learned were signs of an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.

Your helping strategies depend on whether or not this is an emergency situation. If this were an emergency situation, for instance, the person is blacking out, losing significant amounts of weight, sleeping all day, and/or expressing suicidal thoughts or attempts, then do not try to deal with the situation politely or gently. Tell your resident advisor (RA), residence hall director (GA), or someone else who can help to get the assistance and support you need to intervene. If you are at Columbia on the Morningside campus, you can call Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at 212-854-2878 or Medical Services at 212-854-2284 for an appointment. CUMC students can contact the Mental Health Service or Medical Services at 212-305-3400. Morningside students can also use Open Communicator to make a primary care appointment. If this were an extreme emergency, you would need to call your campus's volunteer ambulance service, if there is one at your school, which should come with security. If you are at Columbia, you can call CU-EMS, Columbia University's Emergency Medical Service, at 212-854-5555.

If this were not an emergency situation, a good roommate or friend may be the best person to express concern and get her to help. You can choose to speak with your roommate directly, or you can do things that are less direct — such as place pamphlets about eating disorders around the common living areas; you can attend a seminar or workshop on eating disorders, body image, or healthy eating and invite your roommate to come with you; or, set up an appointment with a mental health provider to discuss ways to help your roommate.

If you choose to speak with your roommate directly, pick a time to talk when you are feeling calm and both of you have plenty of time. Choose a time and place where you will not be interrupted. Start off by keeping your observations away from food or her body, and on her non-appearance oriented traits — such as what a good roommate or person she is and/or how much you care about her. Focus on expressing your concern by conveying your observations about her health or behaviors. Tell her that you are worried. Make sure she knows you value her and highlight for her the qualities in her you appreciate.

If your roommate seems receptive to your thoughts, you can mention the following things in your conversation:

What you see that makes you think there is a problem: Be specific about what you see regarding her eating, purging, exercising, or starving behaviors. Your observations, rather than evidence of wrongdoing, can be discussed gently if you focus on your concern. Stick to the issue — if she changes the subject, ask her when would be a better time to talk.
How you feel: Use "I" statements to express your feelings about what's happening to your roommate: "I'm upset because I've noticed that you don't eat meals with us anymore," or "I'm concerned because you complain about how fat you are all the time. I think there's something wrong."

What you would like to see happen: Make sure that your goals for the conversation are attainable. Your goal is NOT to stop her from bingeing, purging, or starving. You would most likely end up in an ineffective control battle. A realistic goal is simply to open the door to talk, either now or in the future, and to encourage her to take steps to get the help she needs and deserves.

This may be a difficult conversation, and you can try to keep it from becoming an argument. For example, if you become upset, ask if you can continue the conversation at another time. Also realize that your roommate may need to hear your worry several times before she's willing to have a conversation with you about it.

Remember, regardless of her reaction, you can know that you've tried to help her. She's lucky to have you as a roomie.


Weight loss camps?

Dear Weight conscious,

Feeling like life is passing you by or “putting off” your life can be a discouraging feeling for anyone. Here’s something to consider: If you lose all the weight you want to lose, what would your life look like? What would you be doing that you aren’t currently doing? Can you begin to do some of these things now? Following your heart and doing things you truly love today may help you feel better about tomorrow. And, that just might provide you with more motivation to accomplish your weight loss goals.

Now, let’s talk more about your specific question. Unfortunately, free weight loss camps are hard to come by, and may not even exist. However, if you're willing to think outside the box a little, you may be able to find a short-term physically active job that can help get you moving. For example, you could look into a program such as WWOOF, which places people who want to volunteer on organic farms with small organic farmers around the world. In addition to requiring volunteers to contribute physical labor, many of these opportunities provide one or more meals per day of healthy, farm-fresh foods for their working volunteers. And besides being a great work out, these programs offer a great opportunity for adventure!

Now back to the more traditional residential weight loss programs. Some are helpful, whereas others are simply moneymaking ventures. A sound weight loss program addresses three key issues: controlling calorie intake, changing problematic food habits, and increasing physical activity. Specifically, look for the following characteristics in a weight loss program:

  • The program's diet plan should meet nutritional needs, even though you are eating fewer calories. This means following guidelines like those at, which emphasize healthy and balanced eating.
  • The program should stress gradual, rather than rapid, weight loss. Look for a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
  • The program's plan should be adaptable to habits and tastes. No rigid rituals should be required.
  • The program's plan should minimize hunger and fatigue while ideally supplying at least 1500 kilocalories a day for men and 1200 for women. Any lower calorie regimens should provide either fortified foods or a vitamin and mineral supplement.
  • The program doesn't have to be expensive to be helpful to you.
  • The program should help reshape lifestyle and problem eating habits to make weight loss and, later, maintenance possible.
  • The program should improve overall health. It should emphasize regular physical activity, proper rest, stress reduction, and other healthy lifestyle changes.

You can also make changes on your own to incorporate physical activity and healthier eating into your everyday life. Some tips are:

  • Plan out your meals in advance. Be sure to include a variety of foods (like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein) in each meal. Planning in advance will help you to avoid any impulsive, less healthy choices.
  • Start a food journal. Do you frequently crave a fatty or sugary snack around the same time each day? Do you tend to skip meals, and then overeat later on? Keeping track of what you eat and how much may help you identify where you could make healthier choices.
  • Slowly initiate physical activity. Try starting with a 10-15 minute walk a few times a week and gradually work your way up to 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days.
  • Work in physical activity throughout the day. Using a slightly farther away parking space, bus stop, or subway station; taking the stairs when possible; and stretching or walking around the office as a short break from work are all possibilities.
  • Enlist the help of friends and family. Have a regular weeknight tennis match with a friend. Practice cooking healthy with your family.

For more tips on exercise and healthier eating, check out the Nutrition and Physical Activity section in the Go Ask Alice! archives. You may want to speak with a nutritionist (if you're at Columbia, login to Open Communicator or call x4-2284 to make an appointment); or, contact a registered dietitian in your area for a weight loss camp or program recommendation that will work for you. These providers can help you find affordable, convenient suggestions for successful weight loss.

Good luck!


May 17, 2012

Another idea is to work at weight loss camp. They hire counselors and a 23 year old is the perfect age to do it. They make counselors sign diet contracts so they eat the same way as the campers,...
Another idea is to work at weight loss camp. They hire counselors and a 23 year old is the perfect age to do it. They make counselors sign diet contracts so they eat the same way as the campers, and a counselor could lose a ton of weight while making a positive impact on children. Good luck!

November 9, 2004

Dear Alice,

Another option that you might check into would be hiking/backpacking/bicycling trips in national parks, or other such trips sponsored by outdoorsy groups (Sierra Club, National...

Dear Alice,

Another option that you might check into would be hiking/backpacking/bicycling trips in national parks, or other such trips sponsored by outdoorsy groups (Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, American Wheelmen, etc., if I remember correctly). Try an on-line search for some of these websites. I'm sure some of their trips last for a couple weeks, and maybe you could do them back-to-back, or figure out something creative. I don`t know if they are cheap or not, but it's worth checking out, or contact them stating your needs and they might have further suggestions.


May 18, 2001

Dear Alice, In response to the question from "Weight Conscious": Since you specifically asked about opportunities that would allow you to change your lifestyle and lose weight for free, I would...
Dear Alice, In response to the question from "Weight Conscious": Since you specifically asked about opportunities that would allow you to change your lifestyle and lose weight for free, I would think that the Peace Corps might be an ideal environment for you. It would provide the intensive experience that you described, and would no doubt be very emotionally and spiritually rewarding while requiring a great deal of physical activity (read: fat burning exercise). The Peace Corps has locations in most developing regions of the world, and you will find that your caloric intake is quite reduced in areas where no one has very much food. While normal programs last two years, the Peace Corps also operates short 2+ month courses for people who aren't into the commitment. You might also consider the myriad other volunteer programs in developing areas which desperately need help and offer the chance to do lots of hard (but rewarding) work, but can only provide you with minimal food. Good Luck, Movin' it in Mozambique

Men with eating disorders?

Dear Wondering,

Yes, both boys and men can and do suffer from eating disorders. In fact, disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. You raise a great question, though; all too often eating disorders in boys and men are much less talked about than in girls and women. Doctors are also less likely to diagnose males with an eating disorder compared to females and there are also fewer resources for boys and men who wish to get help with their condition.

In recent years, there has been increased attention (and research) given to this topic. Some older studies reported that around 10 percent of patients with eating disorders were men. More recent studies, however, indicate that as many as 30 percent of patients with anorexia or bulima were male, and that men accounted for 40 percent of binge eating cases.

While men and women can both experience eating disorders, men are often trying to change their physical appearance for different reasons than women, including:

  • A desire to improve athletic performance.
  • A history of being teased, criticized, or picked on for being overweight.
  • Wanting to change a specific body part (to reduce "flab" and promote muscle definition).
  • To make required weight for a specific sport (i.e., wrestling or crew).
  • To be more attractive to a potential partner.
  • To look less like one's father.

In addition, it’s important to note that while women with eating disorders are often preoccupied with weight, men tend to focus more on achieving a particular body type, such as being muscular or lean. One example of this is a disorder known as megarexia, a term used to describe an individual who is obsessed with increasing his or her muscle size. Men are more likely than women to have megarexia, which also goes by the names muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia. These individuals exhibit many of the same symptoms of other more well-known eating disorders, such as a very restricted diet, preoccupation with food and body weight, and a history of low-self esteem. For more information on this disorder, check out Obsessed with building muscle in the Go Ask Alice! archives.

For further reading on how men are affected by eating disorders, try Arnold E. Anderson's book, Making Weight: Healing men’s conflicts with food, weight, shape, and appearance. If you are a Columbia student (of any gender) and feel you are suffering from disordered eating, make an appointment with the Columbia Health Eating Disorders Team.

Take care,


February 27, 2012

Thank you so much for discussing this topic. I have a brother who struggles with an eating disorder and I know how hard it can be for men to get help. It's hard for everyone who struggles with this...
Thank you so much for discussing this topic. I have a brother who struggles with an eating disorder and I know how hard it can be for men to get help. It's hard for everyone who struggles with this issue, but it is more "expected" that this would be a condition only affecting women.
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