College Life and Bulimia – Stressors Leading to Binging

Woman struggling with BEDFor the young woman or man suffering from bulimia, a college campus can overwhelmingly trigger eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. From the campus cafeteria to pizza parties, to late night food runs and sporadic eating habits, opportunities for binging and purging episodes can become rampant.

Add the chaos and pressure from the transition to college life and the lifestyle changes this involves, and the perfect storm may be created for students struggling with bulimia.

Particularly for a college student who has learned to cope with and manage overwhelming situations with binging and purging, the stress that comes with transitioning to college can easily trigger eating disorder behaviors.

Eating Disorders Are An Isolating Disease

Eating disorders, such as bulimia, are painful diseases that isolate sufferers from hope and peace. The difficult nature about bulimia is the self-perpetuating cycle that feeds out of guilt and shame.

For example, a binging episode may be triggered by anxiety over an exam or an overloaded schedule. As a student engages in a binging episode, they are able to temporarily shut out the noise and chaos in their world and their environment.

Stressors and pressures that can weigh so heavily on a college student are methodically blurred and silenced by a binge, which essentially numbs the body and mind to any feelings. Individuals who have lived through these bulimic episodes have often likened the binging part to a “blackout”, where there is effectively a loss of consciousness or awareness about what is happening in the present. A college student may find temporary relief from the stress or anxiety they may be facing by engaging in binge episodes.

Although an unreasonable amount of food is rapidly consumed in a short timeframe, the individual will give little thought to taste or physical feelings of fullness as emotions are drowned out.

The Emotional Impact of Binging and Purging

However, once the binging episode is over, the temporary numbness will begin to fade away, and feelings surge with a vengeance. Anger, shame, guilt, anxiousness, and sadness…all combine to overwhelm the sufferer with an urgent need to compensate for what has just transpired. In addition, the feelings that a person may have been experiencing prior to the binge will likely be magnified by the behaviors of binging itself, intensifying guilt and shame.

Individuals suffering from bulimia will then move to “purge” as a means of counteracting a binge, through a means of self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise. Binging and purging episodes often result in self-hatred and increased feelings of animosity towards oneself, which can leave a person susceptible to another binge/purge occurrence in the near future.

A college student who may be struggling with bulimia effectively has maladaptive coping skills, making it much more difficult and challenging to work through triggering circumstances and emotions.

Bulimia is a vicious cycle kept alive by self-mutilating thoughts and feelings.

Bulimia Is An Illness, Not A Habit

The reality is that bulimia is a severe psychiatric illness that can result in complicated medical and psychological consequences. Many college students may suffer from this disorder silently, unaware of the seriousness of this disease. Unlike anorexia, the physical signs of bulimia may not be as apparent.

A college student may attempt to maintain a “normal” sense of life by keeping up with their class load and staying involved in activities. This tiring façade eventually unravels as a person struggling with bulimia buckles under the self-destructive nature of this disorder.

Just as a person who suffers from cancer or diabetes did not choose to have the disease, in the same way, a college student struggling with bulimia did not choose to have an eating disorder. Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to break the stigma and shame surrounding bulimia is by raising awareness and understanding of this illness.

Eating disorders, in general, are considered to be one of the deadliest mental health diseases. Often it is due to the sufferer thinking or believing they have some sort of control of their life when everything else seems to be spiraling out of control.

Many college students who are facing bulimia may not know who to turn to or the first step toward seeking out help and support. There is tremendous shame and misunderstanding surrounding bulimia and, the struggle that one might be facing can be difficult to share with those they are closest to.

Perhaps this could help alleviate the struggle that college students face, helping them come forward for the help needed to overcome the stronghold of bulimia.

Bulimia Is Complicated and It’s Difficult to Stop Alone

Because of the complicated nature of bulimia, professional help is needed to adequately address and recover from this eating disorder. This involves counseling/psychotherapy, medical professionals, and a nutritionist to address the complexity of symptoms associated with bulimia.

As a college student, it may seem easier to continue on in bulimia rather than take the time and effort needed to effectively counter the disease. While full and lasting recovery will require dedication and sacrifice, it is the only way to truly find healing and freedom from the burden of bulimia.

Some students may appear as though they are still able to “function” with bulimia while at college, but ignoring the issue will only prolong the suffering and damage. You may be able to connect to a support group or professional interventions in your local area to help maintain your recovery from bulimia.

Recovery From Bulimia Is Possible

A lady thinking about binging

The college years can be an incredible time of growth, discovery, and development amidst all the opportunities available. If you are preparing for or presently experiencing your college career and struggling with bulimia, know that there is help available for your recovery.

You no longer need to aim for survival from one binging and purging episode to the next. Imagine experiencing your college career without wondering how to finance your next binge, where or how to purge, or trying to sustain a sense of normalcy with the side effects of bulimia.

You can find hope and freedom today by seeking the help you need. Take small steps by reaching out to a trusted friend, mentor or professor, and trust that you will make progress on the path of recovery.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

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. 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 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 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.

Page Last Reviewed and Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 30, 2017
Published on, Eating Disorder Information Help & Resources