Binge Eating Disorder in Sororities and Fraternities

College Party

Contributor:  Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

An open-all-night kitchen and late-night snacking without mom and dad to set nutritious boundaries make college an easy place to binge eat. Overeating can be an emotional escape from the academic, social, and emotional stressors of school – and the beginnings of binge eating disorder (BED).

It Starts with Over-Eating

In a widespread survey, almost half of college students, male and female, said in the last few weeks they’d eaten an usually large amount of food, and felt out of control while doing it. More females (54%) than males (39%) reported doing this.

BED is defined by recurrent, persistent episodes of binge eating – consuming unusually large amounts of food beyond fullness – without compensatory behaviors, like purging. BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States, where about 3.5% of women and 2% of men have the illness.

Among men BED is most common in midlife, while among women the disorder is most common in early adulthood, which is the time most females attend college. 

Research shows female college students who join a sorority, compared to their peers who didn’t, are more likely to judge heir own bodies from an outsider’s perspective (self-objectification) and have greater levels of bulimic attitudes and behaviors.

Comparison to Peers

Woman_wearing_earring_in_front_of_mirrorThe “Only the Beautiful Need Apply” study found in just one month after joining the sorority, members had higher levels of body shame; and sorority membership may “exacerbate pre-existing, problematic attitudes and behaviors.”

Poor body image is one of many vulnerabilities to BED. College students with BED are more likely to feel inadequate and to see their body as heavier and larger than it actually is, according to a study of more than 200 undergraduate college students.

BED “is a public health problem to which undergraduates are exposed; forthcoming studies may be carried out to understand BED and associated commorbidities,” the researchers wrote.

Weight and eating is an issue in sororities and fraternities. Students tend to study, and therefore eat, late into the night, and they many have unlimited access to food of all kinds.

Eating Late

time-of-617162_640Overall, college students are 87 percent more likely to order late-night meals than the average diner, says information from GrubHub, a national mobile and online food ordering company that connects diners to local restaurants.

And nobody gets to college without hearing about the Freshman 15, a legend that freshmen usually gain 15 pounds. While some swear by it, most students don’t gain 15 pounds but do gain between 2.5 to 3.5. This can lead to dieting, and severe dieting may lead to BED.

It is important for college students to know the signs and symptoms of BED and all eating disorders, so they can detect the problem in themselves and their peers.


Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Did you or your loved one struggle with Binge Eating Disorder while in college?  What steps were taken to move to a healthy lifestyle?

About the Author:

Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.


  1.  Ketchum-Lipson, S., & Eisenberg, D. (n.d.). The Healthy Bodies Study. Retrieved August 17, 2015, from
  2.  Only the beautiful need apply: Study flags damaging effect of joining a sorority on body image and eating behaviors. (2010, March 5). Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  3.  Nicoli, M., & Junior, R. (n.d.). Binge Eating Disorder and body image perception among university students. Eating Behaviors, 12(4), 284-288.
  4.  GrubHub and Spoon University Analysis Highlights Differences in College Eating Habits. (2014, August 19). Retrieved August 13, 2015, from
  5.  Zagorsky, J., Smith, P. (2011). “The freshman 15: A critical time for obesity intervention or a media myth? Social Science Quarterly, 92(5), 1389-1407.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders.  These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.  We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.  If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 21, 2015. Published on

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