Students see links between college culture, eating disorders

By Faith Allendorf, Features Editor

Before he came to the University, Atharv Gudi, freshman in the College of Engineering, said he did not have any disordered eating habits.

On the other hand, Maya Novick, freshman in the College of Social Work, said that they already had an eating disorder when they came to campus.

Although Gudi and Novick’s relationship with food differed at the time they came to the University, they both cited that the unique college experience contributed to the development and worsening of their disordered eating habits.

According to Affordable College, 4-10% of male and 10-20% of female college-aged individuals are affected by clinically diagnosed eating disorders; those findings do not account for unreported instances. Students, local and national health experts cite various causes as to why college campuses, including the University, are a petri dish for eating disorders.

In an email, Michelle LeMay, counselor at the University Counseling Center, said that the adjustment from home to college is a vulnerable time.

“Traditional college students are particularly vulnerable because college is often the time when students first move away from home and must develop their own routines around eating,” she said.

Novick’s thoughts match up with LeMay’s findings.

“I definitely had some pretty hard moments when I first moved because I didn’t know how to be on my own,” Novick said. “I didn’t have my parents looking over my shoulder, so it was easy to get away with restricting.”

Kelly Madden, program associate of chapters at the national chapter of Active Minds, said that the typically packed schedule of a university student is another contributing factor to disordered eating.

“That culture of be productive, be productive, be busy causes us to rationalize not eating,” she said. “Then you forget to eat or even don’t eat on purpose because you have that rationalization.”

Gudi said that constantly being busy was what started his disordered eating issues.

“It only developed after I came to college because I kept losing track of time,” he said. “I didn’t give food the same attention as I gave my academic work or extracurriculars. It started off with maybe just missing a meal, then two, and eventually, it started to snowboard all the way down.”

On top of packed schedules, both Gudi and Novick attribute stress to worsening their disordered eating.

“When I’m stressed, it overtakes my mind and there’s no space to think about food at all,” Gudi said.

“For me, when I’m stressed out, I have no appetite and I just feel really nauseous,” Novick said.

Language unique to the college environment can be harmful as well. Examples of this language include “the freshman 15” or “pulling trig” and not eating before going out.

“That kind of language gives college students a justification,” Gudi said.

“I was really hyper fixated on the freshman 15,” Novick said. “I was stressed constantly.”

Novick also said that hearing so many people their age talk about how little they have eaten or desire to lose weight is triggering.

“One time, I was out at dinner with people in my major and they started talking about wanting to lose weight while we were literally at a meal,” they said.

Novick also explained that living in such close quarters with so many individuals their age made recovery harder.

“Living in the dorms can definitely be hard because you see so many people and you’re like ‘oh, I wish I looked like that,’” they said. “Just feeling like everyone here is so beautiful.”

Madden mentioned that the typical party culture at big universities has an impact on students’ perception of themselves.

“Party culture, frat culture; all of those social groups that fail to have an understanding of inclusivity and diversity,” she said. “That’s been perpetuated for years through academic institutions.”

She gave an example, observing how fraternities sometimes exclude individuals based on their looks or gender identity.

Furthermore, Gudi mentioned that one of his acquaintances has a grading scale that ranks the looks of women; a trend some young men tend to partake in.

To fix this national problem, Madden recommends that colleges adopt more support groups for first-year students and put more money into essential mental health resources.

“I think there’s little to no support services for those in their first or second year of college about stress, distress, anxiety, or burnout,” she said.

Novick thinks that changing the perception of the purpose of food would help.

“Food is fuel that you need,” they said.

Gudi said that being careful with language would help those who are struggling. He also said that accepting the natural flow of life is a step in the right direction towards self-love.

“We’re still growing, we’re still biological teenagers,” he said. “It’s natural to grow a little more and gain weight as well.”

 

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