Last year, almost half of all college students didn’t have enough money for food. This comes as no surprise due to the rising costs of being a college student. After paying for tuition, books and housing, buying food can be put on the back burner. Sadly, this lack of resources can easily lead to disordered eating habits among college students.
Before college, we are all warned of gaining the “Freshman 15.” This dangerous expression can easily lead one to develop a disordered eating pattern known as binging. For fear of gaining weight, one might restrict their portion sizes or how often they eat in order to remain thin. This process of essentially starving oneself leads to eventual binge sessions. When one has been in a calorie deficit for a certain amount of time, it is they will likely binge on high calorie foods.
Another habit I have witnessed many students participate in is skipping meals. When a student doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on food they may fall into the trap of eating one meal and counting it as two. Even worse, some will take a nap instead of eating. When they are really hungry but don’t have any food or disposable income, they will just “sleep through the hunger.”
Additionally, disordered eating may develop due to stress, as there are many stressful changes when adjusting to college life. While some may find transitioning into college life easy, others may not. They may develop anxiety when trying to balance their personal life and school work all by themselves. This anxiety can leave such individuals vulnerable to disordered eating.
When a college student feels they have lost control of certain aspects of their life such as school, they may look to something else in their life that they can easily control- food. This can lead to restrictive eating habits and ultimately an eating disorder.
Another circumstance that can leave college students vulnerable to develop disordered eating habits or a diagnosed eating disorder is decreased structure. College is often the first time a student leaves the structure and rules of their home. While in the past their meals were scheduled for them (breakfast before school, lunch at school and dinner set by the parents) this provided structure disappears in college. Students now have to create their own structure in which they set aside time to eat. This can be challenging when a student is first learning to balance classes, study, participate in extracurricular activities and more. Thus, they may not effectively set enough time aside to eat or buy groceries.
Between lack of income, the “Freshman 15” stigma, stress and decreased structure it’s easy for college students to fall prey to disordered eating habits. Yet, many college students who have disordered eating habits are probably unaware that they do. They likely associate disordered eating with a full-blown eating disorder and therefore don’t see their unhealthy habits as that serious.
Instead of perpetuating the “Freshman 15” stigma around gaining weight, we should focus our attention on curtailing disordered eating habits of college students. By educating students on common disordered eating patterns they will know what to look for in their eating habits and see warning signs in friends.
Cassidy Hopson is a UF journalism junior. Her column appears on Thursdays.