Student Athlete Struggling with Anxiety and Food Related Issues

By February 6, 2013

I am 18 years old and a student athlete at a university. I am very involved in track and field and work out at least 2 hours every day. I have had problems with food since I was 12, always dieting and worrying about becoming fat. I have been terrified of gaining any weight. For the past year, I have been chewing and spitting food, restricting, and occasionally binging and purging (only about once a month). I think I might have a problem, because food is all I think about. However, I am not underweight. I am 5’3 and *** pounds. I am very muscular from lots of weight lifting and running. I was measured as having about 16% body fat, but I still feel heavy because my weight is so high. I am worried that if I go to a counselor, they will not understand why I am there because I’m not thin enough to have anorexia, and I don’t binge purge so much that I am bulimic. I feel like I might want to try and get help, but I don’t know if my problems are serious enough or worthy of help. I don’t want to seem like a hypochondriac, and I don’t want someone to think that I don’t belong there. I can just see them laughing because I am claiming to have an eating problem but don’t look emaciated. Can you please give me advice on what I should do? Is it possible that I don’t need counseling at all? I don’t know what the standard is for when someone should seek help. –Megan

Hi Megan,

Thanks for writing about your situation. You’ve asked some very good questions, and you are certainly not the first person to feel the way you do about counseling. Let me respond in two parts.

First, I would definitely encourage you to seek some help. You have been plagued with these fears about food and your body for many years. Because of that, you are missing out on so many other things and living with a level of anxiety that must be taking a toll on you emotionally. Seeking help from a professional would help you understand that your identity is more than a number on a scale or what you will eat for lunch. In addition to seeking help from a counselor, you would definitely benefit from a better understanding about food and diet. I can recommend a couple of good books. One is HEAL: Healthy Eating Abundant Living. Speaking with a registered dietitian who will help you understand intuitive eating would be beneficial as well. Food is not the enemy, and it is possible to live a balanced life where you can enjoy both a good meal and a fit lifestyle.

Second, your concerns about not being taken seriously are understandable, but the reality is that you really are struggling with a great deal of anxiety and food related issues, and you have very real concerns. If any counselor didn’t take your concerns seriously, they wouldn’t be qualified or professional, and I wouldn’t return to them. Having said that I think it would be highly unlikely that a professional wouldn’t take you seriously. Most are well educated enough to know that someone doesn’t need to look emaciated in order to have a problem with food.

If you are afraid to bring up your food concerns in the first session, you could begin by bringing up concerns about your anxiety, and then after building trust with the therapist, you could bring up your concerns about food. In the end, you need to seek help; your concerns are valid, and I would encourage you to do so soon. See “Finding Treatment” for more guidance.


Travis Stewart, LPC