Start of College Can Mean Start of Eating Disorders

August 26, 2010

For many teenagers, the start of college is an event that can push them into a dangerous battle with eating disorders, according to an expert from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

For many teenagers, the start of college is an event that can push them into a dangerous battle with eating disorders, according to a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Mary Boggiano, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at UAB who suffered from bulimia as a college student, said that stress can trigger an eating disorder, and for the college student who is away from home for the first time, the stress of moving into a totally different environment and meeting new people can make them more susceptible to developing an eating disorder.

“A lot of students have heard about the 'freshman 15,'” she said in a press release. “To keep from gaining weight, some students engage in risky behaviors such as excessive dieting or purging food. In many cases, people learn about the risky behaviors from others students in their dorm or over the Internet, so that obsession about weight can become infectious."

The common signs of an eating disorder are as follows, according to Boggiano:

  • A preoccupation with calculating calories, fat grams and carbohydrate grams
  • A need to weigh oneself more than once a day
  • Allowing the numbers on the scale to determine mood
  • Exercising, skipping meals or purging after overeating
  • Exercising to burn calories rather than for health or for fun
  • An inability to stop eating once eating begins
  • Eating in secret
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed or disgusted after overeating
  • Basing self-worth on looks or weight
  • Worrying continuously about weight and body shape
  • Abusing diet pills or laxatives
  • Eating disorders can lead to long-term health problems, and even death.

Boggian urges young people who suspect they might be developing an eating disorder to seek help at free campus counseling centers, through a pastor or family doctor or through programs like Overeaters Anonymous.

For more information:

  • Countering the Online World of ‘Pro-Anorexia’
  • Online Behavioral Therapy for Bulimia
  • CME: Eating Disorders — Recent Advances, Current Trends, and Future Challenges
  • Video: Dying to Be Thin — Anorexia