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Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating among College Students: A Holistic Approach at UVA

Eating issues and body image concerns involve complex emotional and physiological issues, and a multidisciplinary treatment team model provides the most effective care for individuals struggling with these issues. At UVA, the Eating Disorders Consultation and Treatment Team provides care and support for students dealing with eating issues, body image, and exercise concerns. The team approaches eating disorders from a holistic perspective that includes psychological, psychiatric, medical, and nutritional support.

The team works to provide students with the most ethical and effective assessment, consultation, and treatment. After a comprehensive evaluation, the team provides recommendations and collaborates with the student to develop a treatment plan. Treatment plans typically include medical monitoring, nutrition management, and psychotherapy. Over time, the team collaborates with students in making adjustments to treatment recommendations. As needed, referrals are made to psychiatry and gynecology services, or for a higher level of care. Therapy services for students working toward recovery can include individual and/or group therapy through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, the Ainsworth Clinic, or community providers.

In addition to clinical work, the University approaches eating issues or body image concerns in several ways, including education and outreach. The Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns is a committee composed of students, faculty, and staff who are dedicated to advancing the understanding, prevention, and treatment of eating disorders and exercise abuse throughout the University community. The committee’s goals are to promote positive body image and healthy living in mind, body, and spirit, as well as to provide referrals for those in need.

The Women’s Center’s Body Positive Program creates partnerships with organizations across Grounds to provide resources and create awareness about healthy relationships with food, exercise, and body image. In addition, students who are professionally trained as Peer Health Educators focus on healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors, giving presentations to their peers throughout the year.

Tips for Parents

Do you have concerns about your student? The following are ways in which parents can support their student who may be struggling with or at risk for disordered eating:

  • Send students positive messages that are not linked to appearance or eating behavior. Your daughter or son may be focused on such issues due to peer influences, yet you can remain the voice that continues to recognize their internal, enduring qualities.
  • Be aware of dramatic weight changes in your student. Weight changes are rare in this age group without engaging in disordered eating, and are usually accompanied by increases in social withdrawal, depressed mood, and worsening concentration.
  • Find a balance between supporting/nurturing and encouraging independence. Because those struggling with eating difficulties often simultaneously struggle with separating from home and individuating, it can be challenging for parents to foster autonomy.
  • Offer a lot of support and encouragement. Tell your daughter or son that you are concerned, that you care, and that you would like to help. Remember that it is not your job to be your daughter or son’s therapist, nutritionist, or food and/or bathroom police, but be aware of what creates distress and try to understand what your daughter or son feels.
  • Know that disordered eating is more than just “a phase.” For most students, disordered eating that is present in late adolescence will remain without education or treatment.

Students can find both educational resources and support through the University if they are struggling with their relationship with food and/or exercise. Encourage your student to seek out these resources and treatment if you think it is needed.

Care providers who are part of the Student Health Eating Disorders and Consultation Treatment Team include:

  • Deepti Athalye, Psychologist, Counseling and Psychological Services
  • Melanie Brede, Nutritionist, Office of Health Promotion
  • Maria Portilla, Physician, General Medicine