Fraternities & Eating Disorders in College: Correlations & Concern

College Fraternities

Eating disorders are common in men. Even though in the past, it has been considered a ‘female disease’; males also suffer from EDs and have a lifetime prevalence rate of .3% for anorexia, .5% for bulimia, and 2% for binge eating disorder.  Total statistics equate to approximately 25%, (or 10 million men) of individuals in the U.S. who have a diagnosed eating disorder [1].

Prevalence of Eating Disorders

A past study looked at 2,822 university students found that 3.6% of were indicative of having an eating disorder. Typically, men with eating disorders, binging, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting were all common behaviors.

Comorbid disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and excessive exercise are all common with males who struggle with eating disorders.

Men are at risk for poor body-image just like their female counterparts. There are typically unrealistic and unhealthy ideas around weight and physique with a specific focus on muscularity for men in Westernized societies.

Past research has shown that males would prefer to be lean and muscular [1].

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) conducted a Collegiate Survey Project that looked at 165 colleges nationwide to see the prevalence of students struggling with eating disorders.

The results showed that athletes lack eating disorder support and that eating disorders are on the rise in males.

The Masculine Ideal

College can bring many changes and stressors to the student. College students are typically in transition learning to live on their own, exploring a new school and environment, and adjusting to new friends and possibly Greek life (joining a fraternity).

Often comparisons are made in appearance, look and beauty, as well as athletics, and academic success.

Men in college may develop an unhealthy exercise or bodybuilding habits while in school. There is extreme pressure to fit in and stand out by how you look [2]. They may try to obtain the ‘ideal masculine build’ where their body appears lean and muscular.

University gyms can be a breeding ground for excessive exercise behaviors and where these unhealthy behaviors are normalized. This can lead a person to change their eating habits and develop an eating disorder if it continues.

Fraternities: Cause for Concern

In school, pressures are increased for academic success, to hold an athletic scholarship, and dealing with the demands of living away from home. It can be natural to look for an organization or group that one may feel connected to and can engage in [2].

College student studyingOften this can add a new layer of pressure for men as they have to participate in the rigors of the fraternity activities and initiation rituals.  It can be weeks of grueling events, late nights, and studying fraternity rules and regulations which takes time away from academics, sports, and normal life.

If males come to college with the predisposition for an eating disorder, being in a new environment and pressures of a fraternity can trigger eating disorder behaviors and thoughts and lead to an eating disorder.

Greek life can mean attending weekly to monthly meetings, events, and being on additional committees. It can also involve alcohol abuse and hazing as part of the initiation process which can affect sleep, hygiene, and other areas of life.

It can be more comfortable for some individuals to reach for a drink to relax or numb the stress. This can affect the person’s memory, hunger and fullness cues, as well as social and academic functioning.

Appearance, another key factor in fraternities, can trigger excessive time spent in the gym, personal grooming behaviors, or emphasis on a specific look or image. These actions can lead to more obsessive and disordered patterns of eating and eventually an eating disorder.

What is Available

Understanding the potential triggers and stressors that can occur will help you prepare better for the transition to college. For those people that might be struggling with either disordered eating or an eating disorder, resources are available on college campuses.

Fraternity on the beach

Most campuses have a counseling center that is free and confidential. Their clinical professionals can assess if you are struggling with an eating disorder, provide brief counseling, and refer you to long-term care if necessary.

Other resources include tutoring, and accommodations in classes are available if needed.

Higher levels of care are also available off-campus for students to use if the eating disorder is moderate to severe. These levels can include residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient therapy, and weekly outpatient therapy.

Some hospitals that are close to college campuses offer group intensive outpatient therapy for various co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Often these programs provide help to this specific population and hold programs around college class hours to help reduce the stress of academic life

Being able to reach out to support resources and individuals can help you manage your college experience and Greek life successfully. It is knowing that help is available to help you recover from your disorder.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] Research on Males and Eating Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2017, from
[2] Eating Disorders: The Challenges Among College-Aged Males (Part 1). (2016, August 30). Retrieved December 12, 2017, from

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 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 on January 30, 2018.
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