Orthorexia in the College Student

College Student

For many students, college is a time to explore new ways of living and being, as individuals develop their autonomy and independence.

College is also a time in which individuals are molding new relationships, and many friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors can become influential during this time. Roommates, hall-mates, can easily influence students, people living in their dorms or that they share classes with, teammates, etc., taking opinions and experiences to form their own identity.

A Time of Vulnerability

At a time when students are often more vulnerable emotionally and mentally, this time of exploration during college can lead to a change in lifestyle and behaviors. For some individuals, these changes may be positive, while others more negative, all contributing to their experience as a college student.

Young girl alone in park, face close up.Trying new ways of eating is something that might be explored by college students, particularly if they are influenced by outside sources. For example, a common food trend circulating is “clean-eating”, in which a person only eats certain foods that are deemed “pure” and “good” for the body.

This is a dieting trend that promotes excellent health benefits, and like any other diet fad, it often circulates like wildfire. A college student who may be interested in many changes to their diet or desiring to better control their weight might be more prone to applying different methods to how they eat and exercise.

The “clean-eating” trend can seem much more doable and desirable, particularly if encouraged by roommates or friends who are also trying a new way of eating and dieting. It’s much easier to jump on the bandwagon of trying something new if “everyone else is doing it”.

Maintaining a Balance

While striving to eat healthier seems like a good thing, it is important to keep perspective and balance with everything. It is often easy to become obsessive about following “food rules”, particular ones that dictate which foods are “good” and “bad”.

woman-980022_640426xThe danger about the clean-eating trend is how it associates a form of morality with eating, as if it is possible to become pure and clean by eating certain types of food. This also assimilates the opposite belief, that eating particular foods can make a person “bad” or “dirty” somehow.

For a person who may have risk factors that makes them more susceptible to developing an eating disorder, following a seemingly “healthy” diet trend can actually lead to more problematic issues. Orthorexia is a term that describes an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy – think “clean-eating” taken to an extreme.

While Orthorexia is not a recognized as a diagnosable eating disorder, there are many signs and symptoms associated with this condition that can lead to adverse consequences. Many individuals with this condition will often exhibit certain behaviors, such as severe restricting of certain foods or entire food groups, recurring “cleanses” or fasts in attempt to detoxify or purifying, and increased anxiety or shame when food/dietary rules are broken.

Fewer Social Interactions

Some college students struggling with Orthorexia may exhibit their obsessiveness with healthy eating through the way they begin interacting with others. There may be a sudden decline in social interactions and increased isolation, as a person becomes more obsessed with eating and exercising in a certain way.

lonely man on the bench autumn, winterA student dealing with orthorexia may skip out on social functions for fear of being confronted with unapproved foods or in order to exercise/work-out according to their rigorous schedule.

Students who struggle with orthorexia may not necessarily fall into these behavior patters as an attempt to lose weight but rather in attempt to achieve self-identity, which can be difficult to do during a transition time such as college.

However, if left untreated, serious medical complications can result from Orthorexia, such as malnutrition, and the emotional and/or psychological factors that may be present with the obsession to eat healthy can indicate something much more problematic.

If you are a student who has struggled with Orthorexia, consider reaching out to someone you trust and be open about what you may be dealing with.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Special Projects Coordinator for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.

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.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 31, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com