Binge Eating Disorder: How College Can Make It Worse

Much attention is garnered and drawn towards the eating disorders Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. With anorexia having the highest mortality rate among any other psychiatric illness, the focus and attention given towards prevention and treatment are absolutely essential, but what about Binge Eating Disorder?

However, sometimes overshadowed is the equally devastating Binge Eating Disorder, also classified as a major eating disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in May of 2013 [1]. Unknown to many, Binge Eating Disorder is actually the most common eating disorder in the America, with about 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and up to 1.6% of adolescents impacted by this disease [2].

The Myths About Binge Eating Disorder

With much misinformation circulating about BED, there exist many myths about this disease.  A common myth is that individuals who are struggling with Binging are in fact obese; however, this is not true.

College cafeteria where college students can do binge eating

Binge eating disorder is also stigmatized as a “lack of self control” when it comes to eating, which implies that a person is simply unable to stop themselves from consuming food.  

This is a dangerous characterization of this psychiatric illness, as it falsely portrays the complexity of binge eating disorder.  

There are many factors involved, including biological components, that influence abnormal eating behaviors involved with binge eating disorder, and many of these aspects are not things that a person necessarily has control over.

BED is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable eating, followed by intense feelings of guilt or shame. Unlike individuals who suffer from Bulimia, people with Binge Eating Disorder do not engage in compensatory behaviors for their binging, such as purging or excessive exercise.

The symptoms of this disorder may not be as obvious as Anorexia and Bulimia; therefore, it can easily be missed or mistakenly diagnosed.

Why College Students Are Especially Vulnerable

This is especially troublesome for the college student who may be suffering from Binge Eating Disorder. As college events, social activities, and culture typically revolve around food, binge eating may go quietly unnoticed.

When adding in the shame and stigma that surrounds binge eating disorder, it is easy to see how a college student may hide their struggle in isolation.  A college student with binge eating disorder may feel that they are not “sick enough” to get help or treatment, or may simply feel ashamed in admitting their struggles.  These factors sadly prevent many college students in need from seeking out the help they deserve.

Perhaps you or someone you care about is struggling with binge eating. This can be painful while simultaneously attempting to fulfill academic and social obligations. Because there is overwhelming stigma and shame surrounding binge eating, it can be difficult to know where to seek help or how to find resources you need to recover.

How To Look Out For Binge Eating Disorder

What are signs that may indicate you are struggling with binge eating? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you have persistent and frequent episodes of binge eating?
  2. Do you repeatedly eat until you feel sick or are uncomfortably full?
  3. Do you eat abnormally large amounts of food even when you are not physically hungry?
  4. Do you gorge on food excessively when feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed?
  5. Do you feel unable to control how much you are eating?
  6. Do you avoid social gatherings or events because you are embarrassed by the amount of food you eat?
  7. Do you feel ashamed, guilty, depressed, anxious or disgusted after a binging episode?

Boy concerned about binge eating

If you answered yes to these questions above, there may be a chance that you are suffering from binge eating disorder. If you are concerned about your eating and behavior patterns, it is important to seek professional help and counseling to help overcome binge eating disorder.

Your college wellness center may offer referral services to eating disorder specialists who can assess your current condition and help you address this complex eating disorder.  Depending on your individual situation, you may be able to continue with your academic commitments while receiving help and treatment for binge eating disorder.  There are multiple levels of binge eating disorder treatment available, and an eating disorder specialist can help determine the most effective individualized care based on your needs and situation.

Do Not Be Ashamed About Binge Eating Disorder

The college years are ripe with opportunity and potential. You may have learned how to function as normally as possible, even while struggling with binge eating.

Perhaps you have carefully disguised your binge episodes around your class schedule and social activities.  It is important to understand that binge eating is a mental illness that can result in devastating health consequences, such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Other Diseases

It Is Possible To Reach Out For Help

Whether binge eating is something that developed while you were in college or was triggered by the transitional changes of college, it is never too late to reach out for help. According to a 2010 survey of college counselors and other professions by the Eating Disorders Recovery Center, many college students may not seek treatment for several reasons, including:

  • Unwillingness
  • Lack of awareness of treatment resources
  • Embarrassment in seeking treatment
  • Lack of treatment resources
  • Lack of knowledge by staff about where to refer students
  • They did not know that they had an eating disorder [3]

Outside Stress Can Make BED Worse: Get Help

College Student studyingThe stressors involved in college life can worsen eating disorder symptoms if not properly addressed.

Ask yourself: Do you want to simply make it through each day or from one binge episode to another? Or do you want to thrive in your college years and soak up the experiences and opportunities that are presented to you?

The pain you may be suffering through will only be alleviated as you find freedom in recovery from binge eating disorder.

Take the first step towards overcoming binge eating by reaching out to a trusted friend, counselor, professor, or mentor and ask for the help you need.

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 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 nutrition private practice.


[1]:  “New in the DSM-5: Binge Eating Disorder”,
[2]: Swanson SA, Crow SJ, Le Grange D, Swendsen J, Merikangas KR. Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in adolescents. Results from the national comorbidity survey replication adolescent supplement. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2011;68(7):714–723.
[3]: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. “The hidden health crisis on campus: Eating Disorders.”

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.

Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC on August 9, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 9, 2017.
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