The number of high school graduates who are going on to college has increased significantly over the last decade. While the prospect of attending college brings opportunity, expectation, and hope for the future, it also can present as an environment laden with challenges and various confrontations. Many might associate the college life with late night food runs, new-found freedoms, or drinking at countless social events. Perhaps many more individuals would identify better with the stress that comes hand-in-hand with college. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Edition), the majority of eating disorders develop during the late adolescent or in the early twenties. This fits the category for many college students, and with the pressures inundating college life, this is not surprising.
Eating disorders are more likely to develop during transitional phases in one’s life, and the transition to college definitely falls under this category. This is the period where many young adults commence their lives detached from their families-often for the first time. To add to this, college students are immersed in countless other changes, such as coping with social pressures to be thin, becoming accustomed to academic demands, assuming responsibility for their own nutrition and wellness-all while learning to establish their individuality and create their own sense of identity. Many young adults might more accurately describe their college experience with telling’s of countless late nights of studying, homework and tests, perpetual change, living and working in unfamiliar environments, attempting to establish new friendships….all adding to the stress-factor. Some students are better able to adapt to these changes and transitions, while others may feel overcome and beleaguered.
It is these types of conditions that eating disorders develop…and thrive in. When the stress and anxiety of our surroundings becomes unbearable, we become dependent on our individual coping mechanisms to survive-to pull through whatever situation may be subduing our ability to live and flourish. There also comes a need for control. If you could imagine a freshmen college student beginning their first semester and facing these complied stressors, it would make sense that a need for steadiness might be sought in food and weight control. Perhaps this might surface as “dieting” or develop into a severe eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia-regardless of the form or severity, eating disorders are deceptive promises of a false sense of control…a life that leads only to more emptiness, hurting, and emotional void and the possibility on missing out on what could be the best years of your life.
Indeed, life in college is beset with stress and anxiety, particularly at a delicate transitional period of many young people’s lives. The need for healthy coping and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to effectively manage stress while implementing self-care are important for making it through the stormy waters that college can be.
While college students are particularly vulnerable to disordered eating, the good news is that there are ways to set yourself up for success-even in the harshest conditions-and enjoy all that college has to offer to the fullest potential. Perhaps you are currently a college student struggling with an eating disorder? There is hope for you too! It is never too late to free yourself from the hopeless cycle of dissatisfaction and deprivation. Many college campuses have wellness programs that can offer much needed support, and even outside college campuses exist several free support groups that offer ways to get plugged in. Surrounding oneself with positivity and helpful support is invaluable in the fight against eating disorders as well as in piloting through the adventures of college life. No matter if you are just starting your college journey, or are well on your way to graduating; know that there is always hope for life, freedom, and recovery.