Welcome to college, here’s your eating disorder

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When was in high school, I was comfortable with my body. I was never what anyone would call “skinny” but I had a roughly average build. I would eat three meals a day that would consist of what I was in the mood for, I wore whatever I wanted, and I woke up every day feeling good about the person looking back in the mirror. When I started college, I gained weight quickly. At first, I didn’t really notice, or maybe it just didn’t bother me that much, but once I went home for winter break, I knew. As soon as I got back, the comments on my body started. Anyone I knew prior to college had something to say about it. People would tell me I had “put on a few” or ask me what I had been eating or if I had been working out. Every positive image of myself I held before melted away. I grew obsessed with losing weight. At first, it started off as cutting a few things out of my diet, mainly sugars, until I cut out everything I loved and most of my meals looked like a plate of leaves with a cup of water. I worked out like I was going to the Olympic trials and my days comprised hours of running and workouts. Once I finally put down the weight, no one could even recognize me. I had lost 50 pounds in a matter of months. I could never be honest with anyone, I didn’t know how to say I wasn’t eating more than a few bites a day, and I didn’t understand that I had an eating disorder. I thought I was only doing it to lose the weight, but once I did I still couldn’t stop. 

In college, this is a pretty common mental health disorder. NEDA tells us that “10-20% of female college students and 4-10% of male college students have an eating disorder”. College is the prime time for developing an eating disorder. With additional stress factors ranging anywhere from the new workload to social life and combined with low self-esteem and anxiety, an eating disorder can mask itself as a way to regain control of your life. There are many kinds of eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is my previously unnamed disorder, which comes with an obsession with weight loss and under-eating or overexercising. Bulimia is when one is consistently consuming large amounts of food and then purges. Binge eating disorder is the large consumption of food during a short period, followed by feelings of shame and other negative thoughts about oneself. However, there are many other forms of disordered eating. Just because you don’t find yourself among the most common ones does not mean your eating habits aren’t disordered. The college environment encourages disordered eating for many people, with new schedules and the availability of dining halls and late-night meals. It’s far too easy to fall into these unhealthy habits or become triggered by them, especially if others around you are engaging in them as well. NEDA even warns that healthy eaters can be partially or fully affected by disordered eating at a rate of 20-25%. What most people don’t come to realize until it’s too late is that eating disorders can be deadly.

My eating disorder has completely changed my life. If I could go back to the time when I felt good about my body, I would in a heartbeat. While I’ve never been thinner, I’ve also never felt less confident or less happy about the person who looks back in the mirror. Every day, I wake up and look for the outfit that will cover the most skin, while food and calories consume my mind for the rest of the day. While I can’t tell you the last time I ate my favorite food, I can tell you the last time I bailed on lunch plans. It has put a large strain on my relationships and my health, both mental and physical. While the road to healthy weight loss may be long, the road to recovery from an eating disorder will always be longer.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help, it’s never too late.

Credit: National Eating Disorders Association

References:

https://childmind.org/article/eating-disorders-and-college/

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

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