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  • Gabrielle Morreale

Eating Disorders on College Campuses

Updated: Jun 4


three friends cheering - Eating Disorders on College Campuses


By Hannah de Groot MEd. & Gabrielle Morreale M.A. LPC.


We’ve officially entered May and the end of the semester is right around the corner! Whether you’re graduating high school (yay!) or gearing up for another semester in college, it’s time to talk about eating disorder culture on college campuses. More importantly, how seemingly normalized disordered eating habits are. So normalized that comments about food, diets, bodies and weight pass by ordinarily in everyday conversation without a second thought. This might look like friends fasting all day before formals, excessively exercising and dieting before spring break, getting caught up in studying and “forgetting” to eat, or purging drunk foods after a night out.

Don’t be mistaken - while these behaviors might seem ordinary to the average college student, they are not much different than disordered eating symptoms you’ve been working hard to fight! We’ve talked before about how our culture is weirdly obsessed with the thin ideal, and how diet culture relies on us falling for unrealistic beauty standards. Let’s think more about how these unspoken expectations show up on college campuses.


There are a lot of reasons why the rate of eating disorders increase among college students, with stress and the pressure to achieve being the primary culprits. The normalization ED behaviors among college students are a little harder to understand and explain. However, if you’ve been there or are currently a student this article is for you!

One reason it might be harder to explain is that unspoken competition college women seem to have with each other. Who can be the smartest, who can be the funniest, who can be the most outgoing, who can be the skinniest. And for what? Ladies, you are amazing by just being you, your success in the real world will have VERY little to do with anyone else! You are made of so much more than you are giving yourself credit for.

In college, however, the comparison game we all seem to play seems to be on another level. My suspicion is, it has to do something with the competition for men and for some reason this is for sure at an all time high on college campuses. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in my girl Beyoncé’s “Flawless”, “we expect girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller….we raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or accomplishments, but for the attention of men”. But WHY?! Boys are great but geeze are they really worth the hassle and heartache and most importantly the disordered behaviors this competition can lead to...NO!

Recent studies have reported that women are more educated, more ambitious and generally more well rounded than men. Why do we spend so much time competing against each other when there are so many other incredible things about us that should be celebrated? Rather than silently competing against each other, we could be celebrating each other’s accomplishments and lifting each other up. We are smart, we are strong, we are fun, we are worthy of happiness. No diet or amount of time spent in the gym can take that away from us!


Now let's be honest we can’t blame the boys for everything. Diet culture is often misrepresented as wellness as college campuses and lets be honest in society. On campus, this can look like dining halls serving low-fat, low-calorie food and condiments, labeling vegan or vegetarian foods as “healthier options" and selling juice cleanses. Let’s be clear here - just because something is labeled as “healthy” or “wellness” does not mean it is better for your mental or physical health! Also the unlimited access to college fitness centers. Why isn’t someone monitoring this...It’s so dangerous. Exercise addiction and compensatory behaviors regarding exercise are often praised on college campuses. However they are so incredibly dangerous and also often masked as “healthy” or wellness. Just to be clear the healthiest version of you is the one in which you eat what makes your body and soul happy.


So what can we do how can we break this cycle of competition and the disordered eating culture that exist on campuses. When you find yourself face-to-face with diet culture, challenge it! Will the low-carb, low-fat fro-yo make you healthier, or is it diet culture and fatphobia in disguise? Question your motives behind engaging in certain behaviors. Consider if you are going to the gym to relieve yourself of stress or to burn calories. Ask yourself if you genuinely like that cauliflower crust pizza, or if marketing has made you believe it’s healthier for you. Also don’t be afraid of your answer. Sometimes we are often fearful of the things we need to challenge because then we know their needs to be changed. If you are engaging in diet culture or disordered eating you are not alone and that's when it's time to ask for help.


Whether you’re contemplating recovery, currently in recovery, or just tired of the normalized disordered eating B.S., there are ways you can challenge this culture and even ask for help. It all starts with knowing your worth. You are WORTH the breakfast, lunch and dinner before formal. You are WORTH a fun spring break without constantly obsessing over how you look in a bathing suit. You are WORTH meals that fuel you enough to power through studying. You are WORTH that pizza and french fries after an incredible night out with friends! Also your friends or family who engage in ED behaviors do too, and maybe if you get help you could be the change and break the cycle? Who can say, but one thing for sure change on college campuses is essential and we are here is you need support!