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Support for Cadets with Eating Disorders

MACC 5 February 1999


  • Although different in some ways, cadets at USMA share many of the same challenges faced by students at civilian colleges and universities. Some of these shared challenges include pre-occupations about food, body weight, appearance, problematic eating, and excessive exercise. These may contribute to the decline in academic, military, and physical development with serious immediate and long-term health complications. Given the unique aspects of a college education at a service academy, we have good reason to believe that the prevalence of these types of problems is at least the same, if not greater than, in civilian settings. In your day-to–day dealings with cadets, you may be in a position to notice symptoms of these eating problems and to be able to offer concerned assistance about how to address them. It is important for you to be knowledgeable about the signs of eating problems, the associated complications, and the evaluation and treatment resources available at USMA.

Signs associated with two of the major eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia.

  • Anorexia Bulimia
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Privately eating large amounts of food
  • Weight below healthy level for height in a short period
  • Seeing self as fat despite assurance from others to the contrary
  • Brief feeling of gratification after bingeing
  • Constant exercise to keep weight down
  • Subsequent guilt or depression
  • Skip 2 or more meals/day or limit caloric intake to less than 500 cal.
  • Constant exercise to keep weight down
  • Privately purging to eliminate food
  • Abuse of laxatives and diet pills
  • Abuse of laxatives or diet pills
  • Discomfort eating in presence of others
  • Bingeing/purging more than two days
  • In women, absence of menstrual period a week
  • Secretive eating habits
  • These behaviors can lead to a host of serious and possibly life-threatening medical concerns. Associated psychological problems include poor self-esteem, depression, mood swings, perfectionism, obsessions regarding food, compulsive behaviors, substance abuse, and interpersonal problems.
  • If you become aware of a cadet who may have an eating problem, you can take steps to offer assistance. Though being overly confrontive or parental may not be useful, you can candidly and sincerely mention the behaviors you have noticed, and express your concern about the cadet's well-being. This kind of communication will not make the problem worse if you speak calmly, compassionately, and in an informed manner. You can allow the cadet to discuss the issues and you should encourage the cadet to seek assistance from a physician at the Cadet Health Clinic or one of the psychologists at the Center for Personal Development. It may be helpful to request they make an appointment directly from your office. TAC officers, who hold the position of legal commander, may wish to use the option of command referral if they feel the situation warrants it.
  • At either of the above agencies cadets can receive information about whether or not the problem requires intervention, and what an appropriate course of treatment would involve. Such cases usually involve the collaborative care of a physician and psychologist with consultation available from a registered dietitian and/or psychiatrist as needed.
  • Self-referrals will be afforded the greatest degree of confidentiality possible. Active involvement in treatment and ongoing indications of steady improvement ensure that confidentiality is maintained. In the rare case in which medical concerns are severe and chronic, alternative options may be explored including medical leave, in-patient hospitalization, or medical separation.
  • Feel free to contact the CPD or CHC for further information if you have a cadet you are concerned about. You can then approach them with greater knowledge, confidence, and comfort.
  • The USCC POC for these matters is LTC Bob Byrne, Director, Center for Personal Development at x3022/3327.