By Lily Vining || Managing Editor
Trigger Warning: This article contains information about eating disorders and other mental illnesses. If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the mentioned thoughts or behaviors, please seek counseling or other support; resources are listed at the end of the article. If someone is in serious danger, call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline, or text “NEDA” to 741741.
“The Freshman Fifteen.” Skipping meals before going out, so you can “get drunk faster.” Late-night binges after said benders. “Pulling trig” after these blackout nights. “It’s 3 pm, and all I’ve had today is a cup of coffee.” These behaviors are not only problematic, but deadly.
Chances are, if you have been on a college campus long enough, you have heard at least one of these statements. Students make these comments offhandedly to their friends, in their classes, and in public; these models of eating are perpetuated, might I even say glorified, in films, literature, and social media as just “the way it is” in college. Add on the fact that most young adults are living away from their families for the first time, placed under immense stress and high expectations from academics, and subject to debilitating comparison to their peers. Consider also that two-thirds of college students experience other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. For some, these elements form the “perfect storm” for a problematic and unhealthy relationship with one’s body and food, or even a full-blown eating disorder.
The DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s official diagnosis guide for mental illness, recognizes numerous disorders that vary in diagnosis and treatment. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 7.9% to 25% of male and 23.4% to 32.6% of female students exhibit behaviors that fit the diagnosis of an eating disorder; this is over three times the average of 9% for the rest of the population.
Before you stop reading, brushing off your occasional use of these behaviors — “that’s not me”— consider this: you also do not need to fit the criteria of an “eating disorder” to have a problematic relationship with food and your body. College students are primed for comparison— in their rigorous classes, sports teams, and with their peers, whom they see every day, in their most vulnerable moments. At prestigious schools like Franklin & Marshall College, many students resonate with the stereotype of the perfectionist, disciplined, high-achieving student, who will stop at nothing to be perfect. These types of students are more likely to develop an obsession with losing and maintaining weight, controlling their food, and micro-managing their bodies. Many do not realize that the innocent “diet” can quickly spiral into a severe disorder, especially given other risk factors.
Eating disorders are the most deadly mental illnesses, even beating depression. People under the age of 20 suffering from EDs are ten times more likely to die than their peers, according to NEDA. They are also at risk for other short and long-term health consequences that can stick with them for the rest of their lives, including but not limited to osteoporosis and bone loss, tooth decay, and substance abuse.
Women are not the only ones at risk. Men make up between 25-40% of the national number of adults suffering from anorexia. This number is likely higher, but men are, sadly, less likely to be diagnosed and treated for their condition. Due to this, they are at a higher risk of death due to medical complications or suicide.
Even if you are one of the lucky college students who have kept their relationship with their body and food intact, you likely know many peers and friends who may be suffering, either knowingly or unknowingly. Many other factors can signal that someone is struggling: for an extensive list, you can find them here. If you see any signs of these problems, you are encouraged to seek guidance from the Student Wellness Center for counseling services. You can also file an anonymous report with DipCares if you know of someone who may be struggling. For more serious concerns, please contact F&M Public Safety at 717-358-3939 or call 911.
NEDA also offers a host of other resources and guides on their website— from screening tools, to advice for friends and family of someone struggling, to local providers and options for treatment. You can also call the hotline at (800) 931-2237 or text “NEDA” to 741741 for the crisis helpline.
The first step to combat eating disorders in college is to remove the stigma and talk about them. Next, we need to take the warning signs seriously. Maintaining a blasé outlook on eating disorders is killing tens of thousands of people, many young adults, worldwide. While college students are supposed to be learning skills to prepare them for fulfilling, successful lives, many also fall into incredibly negative, possibly life-threatening thought patterns and behaviors that can haunt them for years to come. It is time to end the cycle.
This article is in honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2023, which is taking place Monday, February 27th – Sunday, March 5th.
Lily Vining is the Managing Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.