Eating Disorders Triggered By College Stress, Encouraged by Websites

Any major life change can cause a person to experience anxiety, stress, and feelings of vulnerability as they adjust to their new surroundings. Moving away from home and starting college is, often, the first such transition in a person’s life. And all too often, the stress of that transition, paired with the ongoing high-pressure college environment, can trigger an eating disorder, says the University of Alabama’s Mary Boggiano, Ph.D. Often, eating disorders emerge as a way for the individual to gain a sense of control in their life. When uprooting their living situations, taking challenging classes, navigating new social dynamics, working part time jobs, and learning what it means to be out on their own, college students are, not surprisingly, particularly vulnerable to feeling out of control, even if they’re having fun.

A second element, which doesn’t help, is the growth (in both number and sophistication) of pro-eating disorder websites, as documented by NPR earlier this summer. Such sites offer community and networking features, much like more general social networking sites. Users encourage and motivate one another to continue their eating disorders, and post photos of dangerously thin celebrities for “thinspiration.” Experts say that people struggling with eating disorders may gravitate to such sites because they feel isolated or misunderstood by those around them who do not have eating disorders. The viral nature of the internet makes the sites particularly threatening, as people who may have otherwise sought help may find it easier to embrace the “encouragement” of pro-eating disorder websites.

The challenge of overcoming eating disorders is twofold: knowing how to identify dangerous behavior, and connecting people who suffer to resources that can help them recover. College campuses offer counseling services that can refer students to more specialized help if they need it. But students also need to be willing to look out for their peers. If a roommate, classmate, or friend becomes preoccupied with his or her weight or caloric intake, becomes obsessive about exercise, frequently skips meals, appears to have guilt or negative feelings associated with food, purges after eating, or relies on diet pills or laxatives, these can all be signs of an eating disorder. It is essential for that person to seek counseling (and possibly medical attention) immediately to avoid the long-term and often life-threatening health problems associated with eating disorders.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Gillian

    Gillian

    August 27th, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Back in college,my first room-mate had an eating disorder.She would always be on colas and energy drinks and hardly had one meal a day.I was scared for her but she said she was all fine.But all this came to a naught one day when she fainted and needed to be hospitalized and was under medical care for quite a few days.She did mend her eating habits after that though :)

  • Phil

    Phil

    August 27th, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    It makes me so angry that sites which encourage eating disorders are online. These should be outlawed. Taken to extremes, what they are doing is encouraging kids to kill themselves. Anorexia is a killer and not something to be glamorized.

  • Kimi

    Kimi

    August 27th, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    Not only should this piece of information be used as a means to protect yourself from falling into an eating disorder,it should also be used as a reference and if you observe that a friend or someone in your college has this disorder you bring this to their notice and try to convince them to seek help.A small step from your side can immensely help the other person.

  • Justin

    Justin

    August 27th, 2010 at 8:06 PM

    Yeah, let’s blame the Internet for eating disorders. Wake up! The term “Anorexia Nervosa” was coined by Queen Victoria’s physician, Sir William Gull, in 1873. We can possibly go back another three hundred years from then even to the time of Mary Queen of Scots. Read a paper called “Was Mary Queen of Scots anorexic?” by Dr. James A McSherry, published in the Scottish Medical Journal in 1985. The disorder’s been around well before the Internet was.

    I get so tired of everything being the fault of the Internet. They are the ones attending these sites. Nobody’s forcing them to go.

  • Tim

    Tim

    August 27th, 2010 at 9:25 PM

    No-one’s blaming the Internet for eating disorders. What I heard being said was that it’s wrong to make these young people think it’s okay for them to be bulimic or anorexic. It’s not. They are endangering their health and their lives. They need to get therapy to get through that, not be giving the conditions cutesy names and banding together like a teenage fan club.

  • Ashleigh

    Ashleigh

    August 28th, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    Those pro eating disorder sites make me sick. I am shocked that this would even be allowed to be put out there because this is just so dangerous! Anyone who thinks that this is a healthy lifestyle to follow or a healthy way to look or think about themselves is seriously messed up. They promote bad habits and a horrible self image that is probably already there to begin with and is made worse by reading and looking at junk like this.

  • Raymond

    Raymond

    August 28th, 2010 at 7:11 PM

    And any Tom, Dick or Harry can say anything on these communities which could further endanger them. Professional and compassionate counseling is required. These anorexic and bulimic college kids certainly do not need to be hanging out at a place that very easily could become competitive about who’s lost the most or is eating the least. The sites need to be banned to safeguard them.

  • Deanne

    Deanne

    August 29th, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    In my experience there are many young girls this age who do not want to recover. Well that’s hard to say- they do not want to gain the weight but they do not necessarily want to suffer from the disease. But what is so sad is that there are so many girls who think that the only thing that makes them valuable is what they look like on the outside so they strive for this area of perfection in their lives or what they perceive to be perfect and what others want to see. Sadly these websites encourage this and only make this kind of thinking even worse. They encourage stick thin girls and tell us that we are not worthy if we can’t fit into a size 2. And the reality is that in many venues this is true.

  • Corey

    Corey

    August 29th, 2010 at 4:01 PM

    So personal freedom matters not a bit to any one of you? Let them make their own choices. It’s their bodies. How would you like it if I told you what and when to eat? You guys are as bad as my mom.

  • Lesley

    Lesley

    August 29th, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    If I were your mom, I’d hope you would see I had your best interests at heart and wasn’t just attempting to boss you around. Your mom loves you and cares about you. If she’s telling you you need to eat more and/or get help, think about doing so. I know it’s not that easy but please try and at least consider the idea. Moms want their kids to be happy and healthy and your mom’s no different. She wants you to have a good life, that’s all. Moms can’t help but look out for their children, no matter how old they get. That’s love for you.

  • Kensington

    Kensington

    September 21st, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    I know a lot of people who have recovered from an eating disorder that used to visit pro sites. Not one of them has ever said, “I’m so glad I had those sites, they didn’t do me any harm”. When a person is no longer in the fog of an ed and trying to justify it, they see these sites for what they are.

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