Eating Disorders in College: The Thin Line Between Healthy Living and an "Unhealthy Obsession"

I was recently enjoying a whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter at Einstein’s Bagels in Boston University when I overheard the following exchange between two young women:
Girl 1: “Did you see Stacy* at the party last night?”
Girl 2: “Yes! She looks anorexic!”
Girl 1: “Oh my god. I know, she looks so good. I wonder how she did it.”
Girl 2: “I asked her; she said she only eats one meal a day. I’m so jealous, I don’t know if I could do that.”
Girl 1: “I know. But she looks amazing…”
Surprisingly, there was no tone of irony or sarcasm in either of the girls’ voices—only the simple yet frightening revelation of these young women’s mentality towards body image. They couldn’t have expressed it more clearly; these two college-educated women were admiring and aspiring to have the body of an anorexic girl.
Having witnessed their exchange, I began to wonder how these two young women—and many women around the country—could be willing to trade their bodies with someone who has an eating disorder. Has our society become so demoralized that physical appearance preponderates over personality, intelligence, spiritual substance and even health?


“College is such an exciting yet scary time,” said Marci Anderson, R.D., a nutritionist and eating disorder specialist who has a private practice in Cambridge, MA. “As young adults we often leave behind what is familiar at home and try to figure [out] who we are and what we want.  The instant freedom, lack of structure, increase in stress, and cultural expectations for thinness—you have a primed opportunity for disordered eating and disordered thoughts to blossom into full blown eating disorders.”
Amy*, a junior at the University of Iowa, developed an eating disorder during her freshman year of college. “I've always been a bigger girl,” she said. “My father's side of the family is very big and broad and I unfortunately inherited that. My friends have always been lean and slender and I've just had a more curvy body. I know I should be proud and embrace that, since 'real men love curves and real women have curves', but it was hard. In high school my friends would swap and share clothes and dresses for homecoming and turnabout. I never could because I couldn't fit my hips into their size six dresses, and [my friends would] swim in my clothes.”
Once in college, Amy yearned to be able to share clothes with her new roommate and the other girls on her floor; but because she was built differently, Amy had to settle for her own outfits.
“[College] was a fresh start; I was excited,” said Amy. “But sure enough, all the girls on my floor were tall, skinny, and slender—and I envied them.” Furthermore, she began dating a guy who would complain about being fat himself, which only increased Amy’s anxiety about her own weight. “This kid literally weighed only five pounds more than I did,” she said, “I felt so insecure.” Which is why Amy began a rigorous exercise routine and restrictive diet, yet she still couldn’t attain the weight loss results she wanted.