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Eating Disorders on Campus: Experts Advise Freshman to Keep an Eye Out for Warning Signs

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You might think that the biggest food problem you’ll have to deal with on campus will be finding anything that’s actually edible in the school cafeteria, but several recent studies have warned that many college students face much more serious difficulties. The number of college students with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating has skyrocketed over the last several decades – and experts say that the unique pressures facing first-year students puts freshmen at particularly high risk for developing these disorders.

According to researchers at Penn State, over 60% of all known cases of eating disorders are diagnosed on college campuses. Another study conducted by scientists at Princeton found that among patients with lifelong eating disorder problems, 53% say that their disorders first emerged during college.

Scholastic Stress and Food Freedom: A Dangerous Combination

So what’s behind the disproportionate rise of eating disorders on college campuses? According to Stanford psychologist Naomi Brown, it’s the result of a number of different factors. Between challenging course schedules, work demands, and busy social lives, many college students find themselves facing the highest stress levels they’ve ever encountered. For first-year college students who have been plunged into a completely foreign environment, the role strain can be particularly difficult to cope with.

Add to this the fact that college students are making their food and menu choices, often for the first time in their lives. Some overindulge and then try to cut back severely to limit weight gain, while others, facing budgetary constraints, may have limited access to healthy foods. Other factors – such as binge drinking and a lack of regular physical activity – may also prompt students to cut back on food intake as a way of preventing weight gain. Overall, nutrition experts estimate that the number of college students whose diets could be described as healthy and balanced may be less than 20%.

Plan Ahead and Watch for Warning Signs

What can you do to make sure that you don’t fall prey to the dangers of disordered eating as you make the transition to college life? It helps to think about strategies for healthy eating and menu planning beforehand. Some high school students have never shopped solo for groceries, so they may be in for a bit of sticker shock when they realize the cost of a week’s worth of basic staples.

In addition, it’s important to learn more about the early warning signs of disordered eating. If you or a friend begin to exhibit any of these patterns, it’s vitally important that you seek out professional help as soon as possible.

A person who is suffering from a possible eating disorder:

• May engage in unusual food behaviors, such as skipping meals, eating very small portions, or limiting food intake to only a few “healthy” foods

• May engage in late-night or secretive bingeing sessions

• May hide or stockpile foods

• May vomit after bingeing

• May exercise compulsively and excessively

• May obsess about food, weight, and appearance

Have you thought about how you’ll deal with food and eating on campus? Do you know anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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