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How Disordered Eating Is Normalized On College Campuses

During the first month of freshman year of college, I truly relished how little I ate. It wasn’t until my parents came to Albany for parents weekend that I saw it as a problem. My mom put her arms around me and said, “Where’s the rest of you?”. 

Since then I have worked every day to make sure I eat three meals a day, especially when I am anxious or my depression is kicking up — since I tend to lose my appetite even more then. Here’s the thing — I know I’m not alone in this.

Consider these questions: Have you ever skipped a meal to finish an assignment or get more work done? Have you ever dressed in a specific way based on what you had already eaten? College students need to be aware of this normalization of disordered eating that we are constantly doing, oftentimes unknowingly.


Woman sitting on bed with laptop and books
Photo by Windows from Unsplash

College students struggle with disordered eating for three reasons mainly. First, treating ourselves unkindly has been entirely normalized. Second, we lack the time to have full meals because we constantly have more and more expected of us. Third, we want control.

Self deprecation is a common form of humor among college students, but if you say something enough times you will believe it. It is not just bad for our own mental health; it can hurt others too. For example, it could be triggering for those whose disordered relationship with food is based on comparison.

Time is a rarity in high demand on college campuses. I can’t count how many times I have told myself, “I’ll eat after I finish my homework.” In the same way that our worth is not defined by our productivity, our deservedness to eat is not measured by how much we get done. Plus, more often than not, there is always more homework. It can almost never be finished. Eating disorders, like so many other mental illnesses, are related to poor academic performance. By eating we actually give ourselves more fuel to do our work. 

College students constantly seek different ways in which they can control what is going on around them. We do it because we have so little control to begin with! This is especially due to the poor mental health of college students. One example of us trying to gain control in unhealthy ways is the phrase “pulling trig.” We are so in need of control that we are willing to make our bodies throw up on our command rather than trusting that our bodies know what we need when we need it. 


Two women sit at a table and talk
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com from Unsplash

The best thing that any of us can do to help change this normalization of disordered eating is to pay attention. Don’t laugh when your friend says that she is fat, remind her that she is healthy and that is what counts. Speak up if you think one of your friends is skipping meals. Be an example for others to follow and make eating a priority. Eating is what fuels us, and helps us be the people we are, that is why it is so important for us to realize when it is being done in an unhealthy way.

Kelsey Baron is a fourth year student at Siena College, studying as an Interdisciplinary Major specializing in Healthy Intimate Relationships. She lives with her family on Lake Wallenpaupack in Pennsylvania, and can often be found reading, writing, singing, or spending time with her friends. Kelsey has a passion for whole person wellness and thinks that ice cream is the best thing to ever happen to humanity other than Jesus Christ.
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