Nutrition & Physical Activity

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No time to cook?

Dear Simple Tastes,

Actually, your diet does sound fairly healthy...for one day, once in a while! What it's missing is variety — you need to vary your foods in order to cover all your vitamin and mineral, or micronutrient, requirements (and not get bored with your food!).  Also, it turns out you have good, caring friends who are giving you helpful advice!

Back to varying your diet — luckily, variety doesn't always require lots of time or effort. You can get your micronutrients by quickly including vegetables in the foods you're already eating. Start by adding lettuce, tomato, and/or red pepper slices to your whole grain bread and cheese combo. You can buy the veggies pre-washed and sliced at many grocery stores and delis. Snacking on mini-carrots that come pre-washed and peeled or enhancing your meals with frozen vegetables can also help provide necessary nutrients. What about adding a veggie to your soft-boiled eggs at breakfast? Frozen spinach would taste great and is also quick to prepare.

Next, throw in some additional fruits. Varying by color helps to insure a wide variety of nutrients. So, what about apples? You can choose from a variety of types (e.g., Granny Smith, Empire, and Macintosh) and they are fairly inexpensive. Canned foods are great to have around. Pick up some canned pineapple, mandarin oranges, or peaches. Try to purchase canned fruit in their own juice instead of in heavy syrup — this cuts down on the sugar. What about slicing a banana in your canned pineapple? Easy breezy.

Your body also needs minerals to stay healthy. Some of these minerals include calcium, iron, sodium, manganese, copper, iodine, and magnesium. Since dietary guidelines are different from one person to the next, check out for an extensive breakdown based on daily calorie intake and age. Here are a few of the overall messages:

  • Great grains: Grain products include bread, pasta, rice, and crackers. Grains can be whole-grain or refined, but whole-grains are best. Aim to make half of the total amount of grains eaten in one day the whole-grain kind.
  • Taste the rainbow: Eat a variety of fresh, brightly-colored fruits and vegetables. The vegetables can be dark green as well. These colors indicate that the produce is full of antioxidants and vitamins, giving you the most nutritious bang for every bite.
  • Lean and mean: Choose low-fat and lean versions of meats and dairy products. In addition, tofu and other soy products are great sources of protein.
  • Finicky about fat: Make sure the majority of fat in your diet comes from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. These fats are the unsaturated fats — they're liquid at room temperature and will not raise your cholesterol or increase your risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, raise cholesterol, and increase your risk of heart disease. These fats should be limited and include butter, stick margarine, lard, and the white streaks of fat in many fatty meats.

Some other ways to spice up your diet, even when you're in a rush, can also include:

  • Shakin' it up: Make a fruit shake with bananas, yogurt, soy or dairy milk, wheat germ, and frozen berries.
  • Pita packer: Hummus (a chickpea and sesame puree spread and dip) in a pita or whole-grain bread with sliced vegetables and cheese can provide you with protein, fiber, phosphorus, and zinc.
  • Nuts about nuts: Nuts are full of healthy fats (the unsaturated ones listed above), protein, and minerals. They're also easy to eat and require little preparation or clean-up, so grab a handful next time you're on the go.
  • Putting the deli in delicious: Adding low-salt and low-fat deli meat, such as sliced turkey, sliced chicken, or tuna, to your sandwiches or meals helps boost the protein content of your diet while giving you a healthy shot of selenium, phosphorus, and chromium. If you're vegetarian, tofu is a good substitute that provides many of the same minerals.
  • Just juice: Drinking a glass of juice in the morning (or any other time of day) is a quick and easy way to get some of the vitamins you need. Watch out for juices that are naturally high in sugar though (e.g., orange, apple, and grape juice). These juices should be limited to one or two eight-ounce servings per day. Low-sodium tomato juice or V-8 can give you some of the vitamins you need without all the sugar or sodium, and they can be enjoyed more frequently.

Columbia students on the Morningside campus should check out Get Balanced! for specific information related to eating healthy at Columbia. Students can also make an appointment with a registered dietitian by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). Remember, in order for all your hard working efforts to be fruitful, it can only help if your diet is fruit-filled and balanced, too!


Bloating or water retention?

Dear Feeling Discomfort,

Whether you're experiencing abdominal bloating, excess gas, or the burping blues, there are many possible causes of your discomfort. Water retention, or edema, is an accumulation or extra fluid that is commonly caused by a temporary imbalance in your electrolyte and fluid levels. In most cases, edema is a totally normal reaction to stress on the body and goes away on its own. More on water retention can be found in Water retention in the big city?.

Abdominal bloating occurs when the abdomen feels full and tight, due to the build-up of gas in the stomach and/or intestines that is not released through flatulence or burping. Bloating is often accompanied by abdominal pain, ranging from mild or dull to sharp and intense. This is a commonly encountered health issue — in fact, eleven percent of the general population reports frequent bloating, and seven percent complains of excessive belching. Passing gas ten times a day is average, and up to twenty times a day is normal. To expand on this (no pun intended), here's a run down on possible causes of your bloated belly:

  • Swallowing a surplus of air. This can happen when a person is nervous, chewing gum, drinking carbonated beverages, or drinking through a straw.
  • Consumption of certain foods, including Brussels sprouts, turnips, cabbage, beans, lentils, and carbonated drinks with high levels of fructose or sorbitol.
  • Consuming excess sodium, particularly in processed foods.
  • Lactose intolerance leads to gas buildup from undigested lactose in the large intestine.
  • High fiber foods can aid in digestion, but can also produce a lot of gas.
  • Fatty foods, which can prevent the stomach from emptying efficiently.

Whether you're a gourmet chef or a microwave meal maven, you can see that diet has a lot to do with abdominal bloating. Certain foods (such as the ones listed above) take longer to digest. This allows more time for bacterial fermentation in your colon and contributes to excess gas production. Foods that are partially broken down play a role in this phenomenon as well.

While daily abdominal bloating may cause you some discomfort, the good news is that it is usually not worrisome. Still, it is recommended to speak with your health care provider if you are experiencing severe abdominal pain that interferes with your daily routine, blood in your stool, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, or severe heartburn. These may be signs of more serious conditions, such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

Speaking with your health care provider may answer any further questions and help you come up with a solution that best fits your lifestyle. Columbia students can make an appointment by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). Hope these tips leave you feeling full of relief, not gas!  


Sore from running — injury prevention?

Dear Achilles heel,

Running is a great cardiovascular workout and it can be one of the cheapest ways to stay fit. Perhaps the main draw back is the jolting, jarring impact it can put on ones body. The repeated pounding and the accompanying stress are transmitted through joints and ligaments — up to three or four times your body weight with each footfall! Some of the most common runner's injuries include runner's knee, heel spurs, tibial stress syndrome (shin splints), plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis. Fortunately, there are ways to decrease the risk of injury and strain.

One possible reason for the pain may be related to improper running equipment (i.e. shoes). Proper running shoes provide more support and cushioning than other types of sneakers and they are lighter and still allow feet to "breathe." Stores specializing in athletic shoes often have staff that will assist you in finding not only the right fit, but the right type of shoe based on your individual arch and your gait. Running shoes typically need to be replaced sooner than other types of shoes, even though the surface of the shoe may not look that worn. The padding inside the shoe usually gets pounded down after a certain number of miles so waiting too long to change shoes can increase injury risk or soreness. A general rule of thumb is to replace your kicks after 300 to 500 miles or 6 months of use. (Side note for those who have caught wind of the shoeless running trend: Running barefoot or with unstructured shoes may work for some, but if you're interested in trying it out for yourself, it's important to start with very short runs, adding barefoot distance slowly, to give your feet, legs, and muscles time to adapt to a very different form of running. Consulting with a trainer or health care provider wouldn't hurt, either. And please, watch out for sharp objects!)

Have you noticed any difference in your soreness depending on where you run? Two miles on a hard running surface can certainly be tough on the body. Sidewalk pavement is the hardest on your joints and tendons. Asphalt is slightly better for the knees, joints, and tendons. Dirt or gravel paths are even better. Also, well-maintained grass provides lots of padding and a slightly better work out for the leg and ankle muscles, just be sure to do a little extra ankle stretching before and after the run. Running on a sandy beach not only makes for good fodder for personal ads, it also provides a softer surface. The drier the sand, the better the workout. Even beach runs, however, should not be undertaken without good, supportive, running shoes. Save the barefoot experience for the cool down walk that follows.

Proper warm up, stretching, and cool down are also key injury preventers. The mild pain you are experiencing could be indicative of Achilles tendonitis, micro-tears that result from stress. If so, seeing a health care provider and decreasing your level activity until the pain subsides may help you prevent a serious injury. In addition to warming up and stretching, giving your muscles enough rest is essential to building strength and running capacity. If you're running every day, could you consider cutting back the number of days per week you run? Some people choose another aerobic activity on non-running days, such as biking or swimming. Cross-training can help build muscles that running doesn't target and give your joints and tendons a chance to heal from the stress caused by pounding the pavement.

You also asked about running and weight loss. It is true that supplementing your running workouts with some weight training could provide some extra benefits. Increasing muscle mass can help boost your metabolism (check out the related question below regarding calorie intake for more info). Because of your soreness, however, it would be most beneficial to talk to a health care provider before intensifying your running or strength training workouts to prevent further injury or strain. If you are a student at Columbia, you can make an appointment at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

Here's to your health!


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.

First-year fifteen — can it be avoided?

Dear Hopelessly hungry,

It's true that some students put on weight when they first come to college, however this is not a universal event, nor a foregone conclusion. For many first year students, it's their first time away from home, making choices about what to eat, how much, and how often. On top of this, many college students eat in cafeterias, where meal options are abundant and portion control can be a daunting task. Students may also be facing new challenges and situations that lead them to eat for reasons other than hunger — such as coping with stress, loneliness, or even hanging out and having fun late at night with friends.

You can, however, make good food choices. Here are some general tips for finding healthier options:

  • Choose baked or grilled foods over fried foods
  • Choose water, milk, or fortified soy milk over sodas
  • Buy groceries if possible: you can better plan your meals, or at least have healthy snacks on hand when you get hungry during late-night chats or study sessions
  • Try to control portion size: ask for a smaller amount, or remember you can come back for seconds if your dining hall is self-serve
  • Have fruit for dessert (and grab an extra piece to snack on later)
  • Vary your entrée selections: try to have chicken, fish, other meat, vegetarian, and pasta once or twice a week each
  • Avoid cream-based soups and sauces
  • Moderation is key: pizza, burgers, or ice cream once in a while are fine; just don't make them your key food groups

All in all, you want to aim for a varied diet with enough whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables and minimal fatty and sugary foods. For more tips about working in healthier foods, check out the Optimal Nutrition section of the Go Ask Alice! archive, learn more about the tools from Columbia's get balanced! initiative, or visit You can also call your school's health service and make an appointment with, or get a referral for, a registered dietitian to create an appropriate food plan for your individual needs. At Columbia, students can contact Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC) to make an appointment.

There are often different culprits outside of the dining hall. During the first year at college, some students consume much more alcohol than in the past. Although there is no fat in alcohol, calories from alcohol are unusual in that they can't be stored or converted to energy for later use. Meaning that calories from alcohol are used first by the body, while calories from food that would otherwise be burned are stored, potentially contributing to weight gain.

Additionally, many first-year students might not think about exercising or may have trouble finding the time. Eating balanced meals and participating in regular physical activity are both major factors in losing or maintaining weight. If your concern is avoiding weight gain, keep physical activity in mind as a key ingredient. It may help to work out with a friend or schedule your exercise — Columbia students, faculty, and alumni can connect with CU Move to access tools and support for choosing strategies that support being physically active.

Gaining a few pounds may feel like the worst thing that can happen to you; however, it's important to learn how to take care of yourself, stay healthy, listen to your body, and eat because you're hungry — not because you don't want to study, you just got in a fight with your roommate, or you think you might have flunked a test. Check out the related questions and tips below to think about what you can do to maintain a healthy eating routine, and have a great first year.



Healthy Eating on Campus

Eat varied and well-balanced meals at your school's eateries. Besides what you choose to eat, watch how much you eat as well, because calories count and can add up quickly.


  • Low- or nonfat yogurt with fresh fruit or cold cereal
  • Cold cereal (especially whole grain varieties) with skim milk
  • Hot cereal (such as oatmeal)
  • Waffles with fruit
  • Whole grain toast


  • A sandwich — choose lean meats (such as fresh roasted turkey, roast beef, or ham), grilled or fresh veggies, and low- or nonfat cheeses; top with whole wheat, rye, or whole grain breads; spread on some mustard rather than mayo or other dressing (unless low- or nonfat is available)
  • A salad — include beans, peas, grains, and sweet potatoes (if offered), as well as a variety of fresh veggies (including different types of lettuce, if available) and fruits; choose low-fat dressings and get them on the side
  • Soup — choose broth-based rather than cream-based
  • Pasta — stick with tomato-based rather than cream-based sauces, and try to get them on the side
  • A meat entree — choose baked, broiled, steamed, stewed, or roasted skinless and de-fatted meats


  • Vary your entree selection — meat once a week, fish once or twice a week, pasta once or twice a week, chicken once or twice a week, and vegetarian once a week
  • Steamed veggies
  • Salad or soup (see above for hints)

Desperation's Thin Face

Dear Needing Help,

Thank you for writing. Reaching out can be intimidating, even online. You've taken the first step towards regaining your health by admitting that you have a problem and asking for help. First of all, it is important to get support from others throughout this process. The reality is that anorexia nervosa (whose symptoms you describe perfectly) is a very complex disorder, and it will take time, energy, and the help of multiple health care professionals to untangle the components that got you into this state. Whereas last year you may have been teetering on the brink, it is now safe to say that this year you've crossed the line.

At this point, it is imperative that you see a health care provider. Some of the long term physiological effects of anorexia are irreversible, so the faster you get help, the better. Your health care provider may recommend that you start a comprehensive treatment program for eating disorders. If you are a Columbia Student, you can make an appointment at Medical Services by calling x4-2284 or by logging into Open Communicator. Let them know that this is urgent. You may choose to make an appointment with a member of the Eating Disorders Team, a multidisciplinary group of clinicians specializing in disordered eating issues among students. 

If talking out loud about your problems seems daunting, you can start by simply making a list of your symptoms (as you've done here) and telling them to a counselor or doctor. Your health care provider will be able help you move forward from there. Together you will be able to work out a plan of action — whether this leads you to an in-patient treatment program, an out-patient program, or group and/or individual counseling. You can make the decision based on both your personal needs and your insurance plan. If you are not a Columbia student, you can find resources and information from the National Eating Disorders Association website and their helpline at 1.800.931.2237.

Please talk to someone soon. You're worth it!


July 27, 2007

Good Luck! I want to wish you all the best in your quest to beat anorexia. Its difficult to take the first step but you've already shown courage in writing to Alice, so I think you have what it takes...
Good Luck! I want to wish you all the best in your quest to beat anorexia. Its difficult to take the first step but you've already shown courage in writing to Alice, so I think you have what it takes. I think Alice's idea of preparing a list of symptoms can definitely help to ease the pain of discussing them with a doctor, and I would add that you could take the list with you, so if you are really stuck for words you can just hand them something in writing. Best wishes!
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