Ah, college. A time where young adults that have been monitored and guided for 18 years finally have free reign of every aspect of their lives. This time of growth and learning also involves socialization, and the popular movie trope of the college party becomes a reality for students. However, college parties and eating disorders do not mix very well.
But, it isn’t all like the movies. Especially not for those recovering or struggling with an eating disorder. The complications of peer pressure, alcohol, drugs, and disordered eating can turn what feels like harmless experimentation into something very ugly.
Eating Disorders and College Students
College can be a vulnerable place and time for individuals in recovery or struggling, with 10-20% of women, and 4-10% of men, of college-age report suffering with an eating disorder .
These numbers have been on the rise for some time, with one study that examined one college over 13 years finding an increase of reported disordered eating from 23% to 32% in women and 7.9 to 25% in men . Not only that, reports of students being on weight loss diets increased from 4.2% in 1995 to 22% in 2008 .
College students are especially vulnerable to developing disordered eating behaviors due to the stress and overwhelming mental health challenges, appearance-focused culture, and newfound food, and lifestyle, freedom.
Addiction & ED’s
College parties are particularly troublesome in relation to eating disorders because both disorders have been shown to occur.
Up to 50% of those diagnosed with an eating disorder report having abused alcohol or drugs, this is five times higher than the general population .
Conversely, 35% of those that struggle with addiction, 11 times higher than the average, report also struggling with an eating disorder .
Both of these disorders share common risk factors such as family history, brain chemistry, depression and anxiety, low feelings of self-worth, impulsivity, and social isolation.
College Parties and Eating Disorders
Going to college is also a time where opportunities for socialization abound, but there is also an increased tendency to respond to social pressures in order to be accepted into a specific group or organization.
Young adults are heavily influenced by media as well as by the expectations of their peers.
One study found that “more frequent conversations with peers about appearance and possible ways of enhancing appearance demonstrated greater body dissatisfaction and internalization of appearance ideals than those who engaged in appearance conversations less regularly .”
College students are in a confusing moment as far as self-assessment and identity while also adjusting to college culture, which includes pressures to appear a certain way in order to be “accepted.”
All of these factors can collide into young college students being vulnerable to making dangerous, and potentially harmful, drinking, using, and eating behaviors when engaging in college social life.
This is not to say all college students should avoid parties. However, as you navigate this new world and the changes that come with it, don’t forget to stay true to yourself unapologetically and to maintain contact with the support systems that can help you to make healthy and positive choices.
References: Jacobson, R. (2019). Eating Disorders and College. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/eating-disorders-and-college/  National Eating Disorders Association (2013). Eating disorders on the college campus: A national survey of programs and resources. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/CollegeSurvey/CollegiateSurveyProject.pdf.  Unknown (2019). Substance abuse and eating disorders. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/substance-abuse-and-eating-disorders.  Lawler, M., Nixon, E. (2011). Body dissatisfaction among adolescent boys and girls: The effects of body mass, peer appearance culture, and internalization of appearance ideals. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40:1.
Reasons Eating Disorder Center at BHC Alhambra Hospital is located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in Rosemead, California, and just minutes from Los Angeles. We provide eating disorder treatment for female and male adults and adolescents who suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia, and related forms of disordered eating. Reasons offers the full continuum of care by providing inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs. At Reasons Eating Disorders Center, our mission is to help you find your own reasons to hope, to have courage, to trust, and to grow. You are worth it!
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on 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.
Published August 29, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on August 29, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC