College Pressure, Signs of Depression, and Coping with Your Eating Disorder

Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Treatment Center

College student reading a thick book about Signs of DepressionGoing off to college is exciting. Yet, it is also an uncertain time of transition where the child leaves home for the first time and will be no longer under the direct supervision of his or her parents. In order to prevent an eating disorder relapse be aware of signs of depression created by college pressures.

For many, this can provoke feelings of uneasiness, loneliness, and fear regarding what the future may hold.

While these are all common things to experience as you make your way into adulthood, for individuals who have been struggling with an eating disorder prior to entering college, such feelings can be challenging to their recovery process.

The Risk for Relapse Is High in College

With newly gained freedom, the lack of a structured routine, and the additional stress brought on by college life can be fairly overwhelming and  students can feel their life not being entirely in their control. Combined with possibly feeling the need for control and perfectionism, is a whole new group of peers who are unpredictable. If friends or roommates are engaging in intensive dieting, binging and purging, over-exercising, or using laxatives, it can be all too easy to fall into step.

Managing food intake in college is yet more challenging.  Unscheduled, unhealthy eating is often the norm given the freedom to eat whenever and whatever.

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Full-blown eating disorders are typically initiated between 18 and 21 years of age, as per the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). The association estimates that between 10 to 20 percent of women and 4 to 10 percent of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, and this rate of eating disorder occurrence only continues to rise.

The Signs of Depression

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for the symptoms of an additional mental health disorder, such as depression, to develop during this time. In fact, it is estimated that almost 50 percent of those with an eating disorder will meet the diagnostic criteria for depression.

Another study of over 2,400 females in inpatient treatment for eating disorders found that 94 percent of anorexic patients also demonstrated a comorbid mood disorders largely unipolar depression.

The stress of new social challenges, increased amounts of responsibility, rigorous academic demands, homesickness and trying to adjust to newly found independence can all cause these young and impressionable individuals to feel overwhelmed and out of place.

Limited money and intimate relationships also can serve as major sources of stress. Dealing with these issues during the transition from adolescence to adulthood can trigger or unmask depression during college in some young adults.

For numerous such reasons, parents, as well as the individual, should take note of any changes in mood, hobbies, sleep and appetite that occur.

Planning for College

College studentIf you have been struggling with an eating disorder and are preparing to go off to college, you should begin planning for your departure ahead of time.

Firstly, it is highly recommended for individuals suffering from an eating disorder to be at a healthy weight prior to leaving home.

Additionally, they should be able to eat without needing any supervision, and all eating disorder behaviors, such as binging or purging, should be successfully under control.

Finally, if there is any doubt in your mind that you are not in a good place psychologically when it is time to leave for college, it may be better to wait until you feel more psychologically stable and more confident in your ability to avoid a relapse.

What You Can Do to Maintain Recovery

While you cannot ensure that a relapse will not occur, there are some things you can do to maintain your recovery in the best way possible.

Plan. Prior to leaving for college, it is important to have an established plan in place that will layout any continuing care needs, establish self-care techniques, and identify what steps should be taken in case of distress and subsequently heightened risk for relapse.

Coordinate with your treatment team. Meet with your treatment team who can help connect you with eating disorder specialists in the area where you will be attending college. Make an appointment with a new therapist a place near to the college campus so that something is already scheduled and in place before the school year begins. This will help to monitor any signs of depression.

Identify Daily Aids to Self-Care. Identify some things that can be done on a daily basis that will aid you in maintaining positive self-care. Such things can include taking a yoga class, meditating, and/or keeping a journal; anything that provides time for yourself, away from daily stress.

Set Up a Meal Plan. Since the food offered on college campuses is often different than that what is provided at home, it is a good idea to have a meal plan set up that will include a variety of food options that are easily obtainable with the resources provided on or around the college campus.

Additionally, if you may have access to a kitchen, it may be a good idea to plan out a weekly meal plan that can be easily prepared without help.

Prioritize Eating Disorder Recovery

College StudentsIn case of a relapse, you should recognize that recovery is essential and should immediately take priority over any existing academic responsibilities. It is often in the student’s best interest to break from school and seek eating disorder treatment when a serious relapse into anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder has occurred.

If at any point the college schedules, routines and new peer groups seem too much to handle, it may wise to take a step back and prioritize your recovery progress.


Jacobson, R., & Child Mind Institute. (n.d.). Eating Disorders in College Students. Retrieved from

Anorexia & Depression: When Eating Disorders Co-Exist with Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved from

About Our Sponsor:

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center provides quality, holistic care to women and adolescent girls ages 12 and older. We treat individuals struggling to overcome eating disorders, substance abuse, mood and anxiety disorders, trauma and post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), and co-occurring disorders. Our campus is located on 43 wooded acres just outside Chicago. This peaceful setting offers an ideal environment for women and girls to focus on recovery.

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.

Reviewed & Updated on August 12, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Originally Published January 22, 2015, on
Current version updated with statistics, recent research & video.