College Students and Eating Disorders


Malak Shouman

Wellness Writer

According to the Child Mind Institute, eating disorders usually emerge between the ages of 18 and 21. An eating disorder affects between 10 and 20% of women and 4 to 10% of men in college and the numbers are rising. However, young people, particularly young women, are most at risk for developing them during their college years. According to Alison Baker, MD, the stresses of college life, along with underlying mental health difficulties, create a “perfect storm” for these disorders, the most frequent of which are anorexia and bulimia. During their college years, young individuals can develop, return, or worsen all forms of eating disorders. This usually occurs when the need to feel in control of a stressful environment is channeled through food restriction, excessive exercise, and an inappropriate concern on body weight, eating disorders arise. According to the Emily Program, both female and male student-athletes have an increased risk of having an eating disorder than non-athletes. Individuals who participate in sports stress body weight or shape and/or normalize disordered eating as part of the sport are at a higher risk. Some signs and symptoms include an unusual and fast change in weight, fainting, weakness, low energy, and sleep disturbance. Some behavioral signs: Eating in isolation, concerns about food, weight, size, and shape, excessive exercise, fear of gaining weight, hiding food, increase in depression and/or anxiety, and low self-esteem. 

Here are some of the reasons that may make college students particularly vulnerable to these illnesses: 

  • Being separated from one’s parents, friends, and other sources of support 
  • Exposure to drugs and alcohol 
  • Change in routine, loss of structure 
  • Increased workload 
  • Desire to blend in 
  • Financial and academic constraints 
  • Change in the environment, invasion of privacy and personal space 

On college campuses, disordered eating has become acceptable in the following ways: 

  • calorie-saving during the day to justify drinking or socializing in the evenings and on weekends 
  • Missing meals due to abnormal sleeping patterns or a feeling of being “too busy to eat” 
  • Substituting nicotine, energy drinks, and other appetite suppressants for meals 

A multidisciplinary team, including therapy, nutritional counseling, and medical care, is typically required for those battling an eating disorder: 

  • Use coping strategies that are flexible 
  • Eat and move in accordance with your body’s requirements 
  • Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full 
  • Without fear, eat a wide variety of meals 
  • Concentrate on your health rather than your weight 
  • Take time to appreciate your body 

College students and others suffering from eating disorders can recover with the right treatment at the right time. Seek help when needed, talk to some you trust, or seek help from a health care provider.