My family is worried — am I too thin?

Originally Published: April 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 2, 2009
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Dear Alice,

I am very concerned about my eating and exercise habits. I'm a first-year, and since I got here last fall, I've lost about 35 pounds. I've been exercising almost obsessively and eating a rigid, low-fat diet. I try to eat about 2000 calories a day, but still feel hungry a lot (especially in the morning) and still seem to be losing weight at the rate of about a pound a week. I'm 6'0" tall and weigh 133 lbs. right now; my family and friends are all worried and although I keep telling them I'm not sick, I wonder if I am. I've seen a nutritionist in Health Services; she gave me some advice about good nutrition and what I should be eating, and I've been trying to follow her guidelines, but it's gotten very hard for me to know what is a "normal" diet. Am I anorexic? If I am, what can I do to help myself? I know I could never go to counseling; I'm too independent. Can you give me any advice?

—Teetering on the Brink

Dear Teetering on the Brink,

It's common for new students at college to change their eating patterns and also to be uncertain about whether those changes are healthy or not. And when people close to you are worried about your being sick, you might wonder whether or not they might be right. The fact that you feel hungry much of the time strongly suggests that you are not eating enough for your stature and level of physical activity. You are also still losing a pound a week. Only a health care provider can diagnose whether or not you are anorexic, have another form of eating disorder, or a different medical problem. However, certain symptoms — such as amenorrhea (loss of menstruation for women), drastic weight loss, "rigid" dieting, and "obsessive" exercising — are causes for serious concern.

Health Services at Columbia has a multidisciplinary Eating Disorders Team comprised of health professionals dedicated to working with students with eating and body image issues and disorders. Now that you're in college, you have the independence to make decisions that are best for you, including asking for help. If you are a student at Columbia, you can schedule an appointment with a Health Services at Columbia clinician who can help you explore whether your eating is normal or healthy. Speaking with a counselor or psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Services can offer useful perspective, which might be an empowering experience. Columbia students are eligible for primary care and certain essential medical services such as these at no or low additional cost. To make an appointment with a provider who can help, call Counseling and Psychological Services at x4-2878 or make an appointment with the Eating Disorders Team via Open Communicator.

You sign your letter, "Teetering on the Brink." What are you teetering on the brink of? If you feel you are teetering on the brink of an eating disorder or of a serious health issue, then it is not just useful, but also critical, to get the assistance you need. You can be independent, and still reach out for help, the way you did in consulting Go Ask Alice! Professionals are on campus to work with students who have similar concerns as you. You deserve to get information and support. This does not compromise your independence. It strengthens and facilitates your health.

Take care,

Alice