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Molly Longest / Her Campus
Mental Health

How Disordered Eating Thrives in a College Setting

TW for disordered eating, eating disorder discussion.

There is a very weird normalization of disordered eating in college. This isn’t intentional, and a lot of people may not even realize they have disordered eating habits or the way they may encourage others to develop them. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 4.4–5.9% of teens enter college with a pre-existing, untreated eating disorder. While this percentage may seem small, it impacts a significant portion of young adults on college campuses. There are many aspects of college life that contribute to disordered eating. Bad dining options, packed schedules, food insecurity and low self-confidence are just a handful of elements that can create a perfect storm for disordered eating habits on campus. At Hofstra specifically, this doubles down. The university sits in the middle of a food desert, worsening food insecurity for students that attempt to buy food off-campus.

While these habits can present differently in everyone, there are a lot of concerning behaviors that are extremely normalized in college settings. Schedules filled with classes and extracurricular commitments may leave very little time to eat substantial meals. Sky-high prices of meal plans and food on campus make it difficult for some students to sustain a “normal” eating schedule at school. Jokes about replacing meals with iced coffee quickly become part of people’s routine with little to no thought. Even elements of party culture have disordered eating habits attached to them. It’s very common to restrict food intake during the day leading up to a party to get as drunk as possible. People even joke about “pulling trigg” to make themselves vomit as a way to counteract all the “liquid calories” they consume. It’s likely that people are entirely unaware of the harmful behavior they are perpetuating. Some of these issues (specifically food insecurity) are even brought on by the universities themselves. Unfortunately, these behaviors are so accepted in college settings they’re rarely given a second thought. 

As someone who grew up extremely uncomfortable with their body and a somewhat strained relationship with food, people making weird comments like, “Watch out for the freshman 15,” and, “you should exercise more, your metabolism slows down when you get to college” were things I never needed to hear as I geared up for school. I am someone who has fallen victim to this culture of disordered eating habits and I admittedly still struggle with them today.

I lost a noticeable amount of weight during my first semester of college, and the first time I went back home, everyone I knew felt the need to comment on my appearance (Commenting on people’s bodies is weird no matter the context so people need to quit that s**t immediately.) I had definitely internalized weird comments regarding the freshman 15, and probably everything diet culture has pushed mainstream, but in my mind, I wasn’t consciously trying to lose weight. 

My first semester of sophomore year was when my disordered eating habits and discomfort with my body peaked. I was hyper-aware of what I was eating and had begun creating too many rules for myself surrounding food. It would frequently take a good bit of convincing myself that I needed to nourish and fuel my body. Luckily, things are far better now, especially now that I live off-campus and have access to a kitchen where I can cook for myself regularly. These negative thoughts about food and my body still linger in the back of my mind, but they don’t have as much control over my life anymore. 

My experience with disordered eating in college is not a unique story. A study from a journal titled “Nutrients” notes that eating disorders (EDs) among college-aged students have ranged from 8% to 20.5% as of 2016. An alarming amount of these students who exhibit signs of disordered eating habits or full-blown EDs have not been diagnosed, nor do they seek any kind of treatment. This is a serious issue that is only addressed at the surface level at universities. More needs to be done to encourage unlearning the negative ideas constructed by diet culture. It can be hard to cope with these issues alone, but working to reframe the way you view food and your body is so essential to your wellbeing. Bodies have no ideal “look” and food has zero morality. Meals are not something you need to earn.  

Hofstra and other universities across the country need to address the problems they are helping create by providing better quality food and making it more accessible to students. They need to educate their community on disordered eating patterns and provide better resources for students who are struggling with these habits. Acknowledging that you or someone you care about may be grappling with this issue is hard, but it’s an important step to take. There are resources and solutions, and you are absolutely not alone.

Micaela is a senior journalism major with a minor in civic engagement. She's known for her love of coffee and being funny online.
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