Using an Eating Disorder to Cope with Depression

Contributor:  Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope
life-863037_1280Suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students, just behind vehicle accidents; and almost half of all college students have had suicidal thoughts. [1]

About 25% of college students have an eating disorder, and the number keeps increasing according the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s 1 in 4 students.

College mental health centers are strained by the students’ growing need for psychological help. [2]

Rising Numbers in Youth Depression

sleeping-690429_1280What is happening to our young people? Depression. It’s happening far too much, and too few people are aware of the signs and ways to prevent it. 

About one-third of college students said, over the past year, they’d been so depressed they had difficulty functioning, according to the National College Health Assessment, which examined data from 125,000 students from more than 150 colleges and universities. [3]

Depression is often a demon driving eating disorders, and more often than not, the monster motivating suicide. Depression is likely the most common disorder that co-occurs with eating eating disorders; and rates of depression are equally pervasive across each type of eating disorder. [4]

Eating Disorders and Depression

person-731476_1280It’s normal for people with eating disorders to feel depressed at some point, but most research shows 50-75% of those with eating disorders experience major depressive disorder, which can put them at greater risk for suicide (Blinder, 2006).

We really don’t know the role of depression in eating disorders. Depression could make someone more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, and conversely, someone with an eating disorder could become depressed because of the psychosocial consequences of the disorder.

It’s the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, and quite frankly, the primary disorder could be depression in one person and an eating disorder in the other.

students-593323_640The link between depression and eating disorders could be socially prescribed perfectionism, or the belief others expect you to be perfect, according to one study on depression, eating disorders, and perfectionism. [5]

This study found female college students who believe they need to be perfect – and are hard on themselves when they aren’t – are more vulnerable to eating disorders.

Regardless of theories, the reality is both depression and eating disorders commonly emerge during the college years. College is both an exhilarating and overwhelming experience filled with many new experiences. Yet, with this comes major stressors like:

  • Living away from family for the first time
  • Missing home, family, friends
  • Feeling alone and isolated
  • Wanting to fit in
  • Academic pressure
  • Comparing self against others
  • Financial worries

Maintaining Emotional Health

woman-690036_640Amid the stress, you can learn to take care of yourself, physically and emotionally. Here are some tips:

  • Plan and prioritize your day. This gives you a sense of control over what you must do and a sense that you can do it.
  • Plan your work and sleep schedules. You know how an all-nighter feels like. Not good, right? Too many students put off classwork until nighttime and then cram into the wee hours. Chronic fatigue can trigger depression, so make sure you’re clocking at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep most, if not every, night.
  • Sign up for an extracurricular you find interesting. Sports, theater, fraternities and sororities, the student newspaper. You can find people with similar interests and a break from classwork.
  • Find support from other people. We are made for relationships, so buddy up with someone with whom you feel comfortable and can share your true self. This will prevent isolation, on which depression and eating disorders thrive.
  • Find some way to relax. Try meditation, deep breathing, warm baths, and healthy forms of exercise. You need a safe, stress-reducing activity.
  • Take time for yourself every day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, focus a little on yourself. Maybe this “me time” is your relaxation activity. That’s great. Carving out time for yourself gives a feeling of purpose and control over your life.

When you need help, get it. If you’re slipping into depression, an eating disorder, or both, seek professional treatment before the situation worsens.

– National Mental Health Association


Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one struggled with depression and disordered eating?  What types of activities have you found to relieve your depression?

About the Author:

Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.


  1. Schwartz, A. J. (2006). College student suicide in the United States: 1990–1991 through 2003–2004. Journal of American College Health, 54(6), 341–352.
  2. Hoffman, J. (2015, May 27). Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers. New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  3. American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2014. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association; 2014.
  4. Blinder B.J., Cumella E.J., Sanathara V.A. (2006). Psychiatric comorbidities of female inpatients with eating disorders. Psychosomatic Medicine, 68, 454-462.
  5. García-Villamisar, D., Dattilo, J., Del Pozo, A. (2012) Depressive mood, eating disorder symptoms, and perfectionism in female college students: a mediation analysis. Eating Disorders, 20(1), 60-72.


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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 28, 2015. Published on