Why Eating Disorders Are Prevalent in College

College can be what experts call a “perfect storm” for eating disorders. Why?

  • New stressors: A major trigger point for eating disorders comes when old anxieties meet new hard-to-manage pressures. A student coming from the more supportive, familiar life she had in high school may find the challenges of college life — increased workload, less structure, a new roommate — overwhelming. If she’s struggling with pre-existing vulnerabilities such as low self-esteem, anxiety or poor body image, the need to feel control over a stressful environment can be channeled through food restriction, over-exercise and an unhealthy focus on body weight.
  • Social pressures: Making new friends and living with peers instead of parents for the first time is a highly anticipated part of college life, but it can spell danger for kids who are at risk for eating disorders. If friends or roommates are obsessing over weight, or engaging in dangerous behaviors like intensive dieting or over-exercising, it can be all too easy to fall into step.
  • Lack of supervision: The independence that comes with living away from home can also trigger eating issues. College is famous for midnight pizza runs, all-you-can eat dining halls and the dreaded freshman fifteen. Unhealthy eating can wreak havoc on self-esteem. Conversely, dangerous dieting behaviors that would have raised flags at home often go unnoticed in the chaos of dorm life.