Eating Disorders On College Campuses and Recovery Resources
Throughout my numerous trips to treatment for anorexia, I have had the opportunity to connect with some amazing women. (While I have never been in a treatment facility with men, I have also met some amazing men through the course of my recovery.) Some of these women I met while they were still adolescents -- 14, 15, 16 years old. And this week, many of them are headed to college -- moving into dorms, meeting new people, taking harder classes. I'll be honest, I am scared to death that many of them are going to suffer an eating disorder relapse.
Even if you walk onto your college campus a normal eater, you might walk out of your freshman (or sophomore or junior or senior) year with disordered eating patterns or, worse, a full-blown eating disorder. Some statistics put the rates of eating disorders among college women at anywhere from 10-40% (10-20% is the most commonly cited number). Rates among college men are, minimally, 10%. These aren't good numbers.
Why Are Eating Disorders So Common in College?
First, let's not underestimate the amount of stress that comes from arriving on a college campus for the first time. Even if you took advanced placement classes in high school, college is a different ball game. You're on your own for the first time. You have to juggle classes, social schedules, finances, athletics, etc. It can be overwhelming -- and an eating disorder can make the world seem a little smaller and more manageable. Eating disorders are not about the food, remember?
Then consider the fact that a lot of research shows those of us with eating disorders are high achievers. We strive for perfection, to be above average, and find ourselves (often) highly placed in our graduating classes. And we sometimes arrive to college campuses no longer the "big fish in a little pond." So we look for something to make us stand out. Eating disorders are a great way to stand out.
Biology plays a role, too. Hormones (including stress hormones like cortisol) are all wacky, not just because we are teenagers, but because our bodies are adjusting to a new and very different environment. If you're a woman, your body will try to sync your menstrual cycle with the other women on your hall. No matter how well you know your body and your cycle, you may find yourself in a flurry of hormones and emotions that you are not accustomed to. Your body, in general, is trying to adjust to a new and very stressful environment.
Oh, and the dreaded Freshman 15. That was a real kicker for me. I went into my freshman year determined that I would absolutely not gain the freshman 15. Instead, I restricted my intake and lost weight. A lot of recent research has shown that genetics plays a role in eating disorders. If you are already genetically predisposed, a slight weight loss and/or restricting your intake can throw you into a biological danger zone and eating disorder in no time.
Finding Recovery Resources On Your College Campus
The good news is that college campuses are, for the most part, equipped to deal with eating issues in their students. More and more, college campuses are recognizing the importance of providing their students with resources. It is in their best interest to provide you, as a student, with ways to cope with the stresses of college without having to drop out. Make sure you know what is available at your college or university.
Common resources include:
- Individual therapy: A college counseling center will often provide individual therapy options. In general, they are meant to be short-term solutions (10-20 sessions at most). If you catch yourself before you find yourself in a full-blown eating disorder or relapse, those 10 sessions may be enough to get you back on the track to being healthy.
- Group therapy: Counseling centers often host groups for students with a variety of concerns, including issues of body image and eating. However, don't limit yourself to just those groups. Because your eating disorder isn't really about your weight or shape, a group on relationship skills or time management may be just as useful to your recovery.
- Nutritional therapy: Check with your college or university health and wellness center and see if there is a dietitian on staff. Often times, because of the high prevalence of eating disorders on campuses, these dietitians have a lot of experience in this area and can be a huge help and are usually free or much cheaper than going to an outside clinic.
- Psychiatrist: Some universities (depending on size, usually) will have a psychiatrist on campus to provide help and manage prescription medications. If you have underlying issues such as depression or anxiety, it is imperative to treat these along with your eating disorder to keep yourself at your healthiest.
- Office of Disability Services: This is an extremely under-utilized service at most colleges and universities, especially among students with mental health concerns. A mental illness such as an eating disorder is a disability just like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a physical limitation. If you need specific, reasonable accommodations from your school (e.g., eating in class, changing assignments that may focus on exercise, etc.), the Office of Disability Services can help you talk with professors and administrators to make this happen.
- Online resources: Your school may have its own online resources for mental health concerns. And if it doesn't, there are plenty of websites online that you can search for that will provide help, ideas, and a listening ear. National Eating Disorders Association actually provides an online chat in addition to their national helpline, which gives you the option of getting help even when you don't feel like you can speak safely or comfortably.
This is, of course, not a complete list. One of the best resources for recovery is other people in recovery.
So, what resources have you found to make your transition to college or university a healthy one?
Hudgens, J. (2014, August 19). Eating Disorders On College Campuses and Recovery Resources, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2014/08/eating-disorders-on-college-campuses