College is a time of change for students as they leave home, learn to be independent and cope with new stresses. For many students, these changes can be overwhelming, and eating habits often shift because of the stress. Are these new situations a catalyst for the development of eating disorder?
What Are the Types of Eating Disorders?
There are many kinds of eating disorders that can develop, but the three most common are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (1). Research suggests that between 5 and 10 million women struggle with anorexia and bulimia, while 24 million men and women suffer from binge eating disorder. For 86 percent of people suffering from an eating disorder, their struggle began before the age of 20.
Those who struggle with anorexia nervosa often view themselves as overweight, regardless of their actual body mass index. In an attempt to lose weight, they avoid eating and often exercise regularly (2). These compulsive habits typically lead to significant weight loss, often to dangerous levels.
Bulimia nervosa involves consuming large amounts of food and purging it quickly by inducing vomiting or using laxatives or other products. This is typically done in secret, so it appears that their eating habits are regular.
Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia, except there is no purging of the food from their bodies. Whereas the other two disorders often lead to weight loss, binge eating disorder can result in weight gain.
How Can College Impact Your Eating Habits?
Stress is a considerable factor in the onset of eating disorders, and college is a time fraught with stress. Adapting to a new environment, meeting new people, taking classes and missing home are all parts of college that can create stress. Freshman weight gain is often talked about, and students who wish to avoid that may take unhealthy measures to ensure they don’t gain weight.
The feared “freshman fifteen” also speaks to another cause of eating disorders in colleges: the concept of body image in modern society. College is a time of transition, and for many, it is a time to seek out new relationships. Especially for women, society projects a certain ideal attractiveness that usually centers on body size.
Gaining weight can be equated with a loss of attractiveness, and by attempting to maintain that societal ideal, you can develop issues with eating disorders.
What Can You Do?
Too often, health is viewed through the lens of weight and not through a more comprehensive sense of wellness. Those who struggle with anorexia or bulimia may be thin, but they are certainly not physically healthy. College is a hectic time, but students should be educated and encouraged to eat healthier, to exercise in proper proportions and to not be so concerned with a fluctuating number on a scale.
Colleges often have health and wellness services available where you can discuss things like nutrition, weight gain or loss and other wellness goals. Through these avenues, you can learn how to keep your body healthy without falling prey to eating disorders.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, treatment is available to help you restore positive eating habits and self-esteem. College life may be full of stress and social pressure, but you can overcome them and learn healthy eating habits.