Eating Disorders and College

How college campuses can be a breeding ground for eating disorders.

The “freshman fifteen.” A term college students everywhere have heard time and time again.  Students are warned about gaining the freshman fifteen as if it’s a deadly plague that should be avoided at all costs.

While it is extremely important to maintain a healthy lifestyle with nutritionally dense foods and daily exercise, it is also important to be aware of the harmful eating disorders that can arise in college as well and to seek help when needed.

College can be a very exciting time for young adults, bringing about many new experiences and opportunities. For many of them, this is their first time being away from home, but with this new-found sense of freedom, however, some students fall into unhealthy eating habits and these habits can develop into dangerous eating disorders or worsen the effects of already diagnosed disorders.

Eating disorders are illnesses in which people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. These illnesses include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and others.

Eating disorders are the second deadliest mental illnesses (second to opioid overdoses) and it is estimated that around 9% of the U.S. population or about 30 million Americans will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime.

The following are some signs and symptoms of eating disorders:

  • Dramatic weight loss due to excessive dieting and exercise
  • Refusal to eat certain “bad” foods
  • Evidence of binge eating, including finding large amounts of food in a short time (bulimia nervosa)
  • Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others
  • Evidence of purging, including trips to the bathroom after meals and sounds or smells of vomiting (bulimia nervosa)

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 25% of all college students struggle with an eating disorder. This is not surprising considering the average age of college students in two and four-year institutions is 18-24 and eating disorders are most prevalent in people ages 18-21.

Studies have also shown that women are affected by eating disorders at disproportionately higher rates than men. This is likely because of the ideal female image of thinness that is represented in the media.

Body image issues that stem from the media are only further heightened on college campuses as the need to feel accepted intensifies and the desire for thinness becomes an unhealthy obsession. Over 6% of women enrolled in college were reported to have anorexia or bulimia, while as many as 40% had reported some form of body image concerns, unhealthy eating habits, or weight management behaviors.

Eating disorders can be detrimental to a person’s health and the impact can be life-long if not caught early.

Those who have an eating disorder can face severe health consequences spanning from cardiovascular and gastrointestinal issues to neurological issues. Eating disorders affect both the mind and the body. People with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders can suffer from severe nerve damage which can lead to the development of seizures, confused thinking, and extreme irritability.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder or unhealthy eating habits and need someone to talk to, counselors are available at the SSU Health Clinic in the Hatcher Hall building located at 1001 4th Street. The Health Clinic is open from 10 a.m-3 p.m., Mon.-Fri.24/7. Emotional support is also available; text “shawnee” to 741-741. You can also call or text the National Eating Disorders Hotline at (800)-931-2237.