College Life: Why You Didn’t Grow Out of Your Eating Disorder

Woman Dealing with Trauma with Self-Compassion

Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Treatment Center

Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are not a fad or lifestyle choice. Often times, body dissatisfaction and chronic dieting can reinforce eating disorder behaviors and lead to the development of an eating disorder.

Unfortunately, as unbelievable as it may sound, we live in a society that actually promotes and normalizes eating disorders. Whether it is in the product name, such as “Skinny Cow” or promoting low-calorie foods, such as “zero calories” or “fat-free,” we are surrounded by messages that reinforce eating disorder behaviors.

Equating Beauty with Happiness

Not only do we live in a society that tells us how and what we should be eating, but we live in a culture that places a high value on beauty and thinness. We are given the illusion that thinness equates to happiness.

People are often judged for the types of food they eat, and even worse, society buys into weight stigmas. This, in turn, normalizes food judgments.

Current research highlights the importance of environmental factors in the manifestation of eating disorders. Even though environmental factors alone cannot create an eating disorder, the role of social pressures for thinness is frequently recognized as an important factor influencing people who may be genetically predisposed to eating disorders.

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Social Media and Reinforce Eating Disorder Behaviors

Even though the National Eating Disorder Association acknowledges there is no single cause of body dissatisfaction or disordered eating, it also does not ignore the fact that research is increasingly pointing out social media as an important contributing factor. Social media instigates self-comparisons and has expanded a dissatisfied and negative self-image for some adolescents.

An article published in USA Today actually highlighted how some online communities actually promote eating disorders as acceptable lifestyle choices rather than a possibly fatal mental illness.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, children and adolescents typically spend 7.5 hours engaging with some form of media, which exposes them to unrealistic images and ideals. This can leave readers feeling inadequate and promote a negative self-image, which has been connected with eating disorder severity.

The Impact These Messages Have to Reinforce Eating Disorder Behaviors

Social Media can Reinforce Eating Disorder BehaviorsTelevision screens, magazines, and internet pop-up ads constantly circulate diet commercials, propagating that once we lose weight, we will be happy.

Almost every month, a new diet regimen emerges that claims to be the most effective of all. In short, dieting has become an obsession.

Such messages are particularly susceptible to young adolescents and college students, who are more pressured than ever to attain perfection in every aspect of life. The youth is led to believe that the only way to be accepted and fit in is to look thin and beautiful.

These messages have a profound impact on our core beliefs. The size of your pants will not determine the kind of person you are, but society might have you believe this. So, this idea that women and girls can “grow out of” or choose to stop having an eating disorder is not true for women and girls who suffer from one.

Eating disorders are similar to an addiction, and like all addictions, one cannot grow out of an addiction. Addictions are often all-consuming and affect a person’s ability to function in the world.

The Immense Pressure to Be Thin in College Reinforce Eating Disorder Behaviors

College is usually hallmarked by independence and self-discovery. College girls today are especially vulnerable to the development of eating disorders because they are given freedom and exposed to immense amounts of pressure to be thin through the media and college culture.

No generation prior to the current youth has been exposed to as much media that exists in today’s society. It is no wonder women at this time experience the pressure to be thin.

Social media use is also the highest for college-goers, and the majority of adolescents spend hours selecting filters and practicing the perfect pose to put out the “best” version of themselves.

Making Proactive Decisions about Our Bodies

Woman concerned with Symptoms of an Eating Disorder and in therapyThe culture in which we live in can contribute to the development of eating disorders, but does not necessarily cause eating disorders on its own.

However, awareness of what can influence our minds and behaviors is  important to lead a successful life. Next time you feel pressured about your self-image, question the urge to skip your next meal.

Education and early intervention are crucial. Parents and teachers and administrative authorities need to realize that eating disorders ultimately stem from deep insecurities and the feeling of lack of control. They can play an active role in helping youth struggling with eating disorders.

Understanding how we are being influenced can greatly impact our ability to prevent and/or make proactive decisions around our body image, relationship with food, and our definition of beauty. It is important to remember that what matters most is what’s on the inside.


Social Media: The Effect on Young People and Eating Disorders. (2018, January 22). Retrieved from

Gleissner, G. (2017, May 10). Social Media and its Effect on Eating Disorders. Retrieved from

About Our Sponsor:

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center provides quality, holistic care to women and adolescent girls ages 12 and older. We treat individuals struggling to overcome eating disorders, substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, trauma and post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), and co-occurring disorders. Our campus is located on 43 wooded acres just outside Chicago. This peaceful setting offers an ideal environment for women and girls to focus on recovery.

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.

Reviewed & Updated on August 26, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Originally Published February 7, 2015, on
Current version updated with statistics, recent research & video.