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Anorexia/Eating Disorders/Eating disorder or low self-esteem?


Hi Mary,

I'm 21 and female.

I will start from the very beginning however relevant/irrelevant it may be...

So when i was about 15 (i’m saying 15 but i don’t really remember) i had big issues with eating in front of people. Mainly because i felt fat and didn’t want to be judged.  i would skip breakfast and not eat at school. I would throw away my packed lunch so my parents would think i’d eaten it and then just eat dinner at home. This continued through college and at uni i’d have problems cooking and eating as so many people lived in my flat but by second year it got a little better.

I always compared my body with other people and always covered my stomach with my arms or baggy tops. I would try and convince myself that i was thinner than other people when deep down i knew i wasn’t (all of this still happens now).

Then in third year of uni (last year) i went to Sweden for 4 months where things turned bad. I wouldn’t cook in the kitchen because it was so dirty/disgusting and i wouldn’t eat there because of too many people. I wouldn’t eat breakfast, eat little for lunch at a nursery i worked at (it was provided) and then eat cereal for dinner. At the weekend i would eat only a tin of tuna or sweetcorn and maybe some cereal in a day. I realised i was losing weight, liked it so continued with it.

When i got home i had lost 13 lbs and became obsessed with my weight and continued as i did in Sweden. Then at Christmas i gained a few pounds and became angry with myself. So back at uni i refused to eat bread, rice, potato. I would only have skimmed milk and felt guilty if ever i had a bit of semi-skimmed. I also went through a phase where all i’d eat was cereal which had the lowest calorie content. I would read all the calorie labels in shops and choose the lowest. I stopped drinking squash and would only drink water to lower calorie consumption. I started exercising 4/5 times a week and became obsessed – if i missed one i’d feel guilty/fat. Then i bought some scales, became obsessed and virtually weighed myself every day.

I lost weight at uni then threw the scales away when i came home after graduation so my parents wouldn’t know. At home i would take food from the fridge and bread, throw it in the bin, put crumbs on a plate and tell my parents i’d eaten it when i hadn’t. Then in September 2012 i went to Africa for 2 months and ate really badly because so many people were in the house and a lot of the food provided was very unhealthy. People kept commenting on my eating which then made it harder to eat. I came home, weighed myself, lost weight but wasn’t happy so bought new scales and hid them (i weigh the same on both). In total since before i went to Sweden in September 2011 i have lost 21 lbs. I now weigh 104 lbs at 5ft 2".. which i know is a healthy weight.

Basically, what is wrong with me?! Now i am back home from Africa i go through phases where i get so hungry i eat LOTS when no one is around, hide the evidence and then go without eating for a long time to try and compensate for the calories i’ve consumed.  When my parents are around i will eat normally because i feel pressured to do so, but then either before or after the meals i compensate by not eating other meals and exercising to try not to feel fat or gain weight. Is it just because of low self-esteem?? I really do not know.

Sorry the message is long, and thank you in advance.


Hi Zoe,

It sounds like you might be suffering from the non-purging type of bulimia nervosa. The diagnostic criteria are as follows:

307.51 Bulimia Nervosa
Recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by both:
1. Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances.
2. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode, (such as a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
* Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise.
* The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior both occur, on average, at least twice a week for 3 months.
307.51 Bulimia Nervosa
*Self evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.
* The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of Anorexia Nervosa.

Purging Type: During the current episode of Bulimia Nervosa, the person has regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.
Non-purging Type: During the current episode of Bulimia Nervosa, the person has used other inappropriate compensatory behavior but has not regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or misused laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.

The signs are as follows:

•   Person binge eats.
•   Feels out of control while eating.
•   Vomits, misuses laxatives, exercises, or fasts to get rid of the calories.
•   Diets when not bingeing. Becomes hungry and binges again.
•   Believes self-worth requires being thin. (It does not.)
•   May make frequent trips to the bathroom after eating.
•   May shoplift, be promiscuous, and abuse alcohol, drugs, and credit cards.
•   Weight may be normal or near normal unless anorexia is also present.

Does this sound like you? If so, I urge you to get treatment ASAP.

1) Therapy - you mentioned that you are a college student. Does your university offer therapy for eating disorders? That may be your most affordable option, especially if they have someone on staff that specializes in eating disorders. So that is the first place I would start. If you are reluctant to see someone on campus, my next question is do you have insurance and does it cover ED treatment? If you do, then a quick call to your insurance provider should answer whether/how much they cover and if they have any therapists "in network" that would be cheaper for you. Finally, if you do not have insurance some therapists do offer a sliding scale fee.

2) Self-help - there are many different books and websites out there that you may find helpful. I would recommend these in addition to a counselor who specializes in ED. I think your recovery will be faster if you can actually see someone one-on-one who can help you. That being said, I recommend the following books and websites:

Here are a few books you might be able to find at your library:  

I hope you find this advice helpful. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions for you or help in any way.  

Anorexia/Eating Disorders

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Mary Pritchard


I can answer questions about the psychology of eating, disordered eating attitudes and behaviors such as drive for thinness, drive for muscularity, binge eating, body dysmorphia, dieting, excessive/obsessive exercise, and body dissatisfaction. I can also answer questions about anorexia and bulimia.


I have a PhD in Psychology and teach courses in the Psychology of Health and the Psychology of Eating. I have been conducting research on disordered eating and exercise behaviors for 15 years.

Midwestern psychological association, rocky mountain psychological association

Over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles in journals such as Eating Behaviors, Eating Disorders, and Eating and Weight Disorders

PhD in Psychology from the University of Denver

Awards and Honors
30 teaching awards, have received funding to conduct my research from academic institutions and state and local government

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