• Lauren Feder

Eating disorders at UCSC: the impact of transition

Updated: Apr 9

Hello! My name is Lauren Feder, and I am the 2021-2022 writer of the CAPS Peer Education Program (PEP) Blog. The mission of PEP is to increase awareness and reduce stigma around mental health issues and treatment. In an effort to increase the well-being of our campus, I have decided to focus this academic year’s blog on eating disorders: how they can affect college students and what we can do to provide support if we find ourselves or others struggling.

Eating disorders are considerably apparent on college campuses, with 4-10% of males and 10-20% of female college students struggling with clinical eating disorders (NEDA, 2013). Through this blog, I hope to illuminate the prevalence of eating disorders, the importance of prevention, early intervention techniques, and how to cope with unattainable standards that praise looking “good” over feeling good. Unrealistic expectations of thinness and fitness can affect anyone, including college athletes who might appear as the epitome of health but are often influenced by fitness culture propaganda. While good health is a reasonable desire, holding yourself to extreme standards can have negative impacts on self-esteem and potentially result in an eating disorder.

That being said, what is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex and potentially life-threatening mental illnesses. They can be evident through irregular behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes to food, eating, and body size. Some behaviors include calorie counting and attaching moral value to food choices, resulting in guilt and compensation through exercise, binging, purging, or restriction. Eating disorders often result in serious medical, psychiatric, and psychosocial conditions, and in some cases, death.

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

“Eating disorders do not discriminate and can occur in people of any age, weight, size, shape, gender identity, sexuality, cultural background or socioeconomic group” (NEDC).

While some may view eating disorders as an experience they cannot relate to, awareness of the complexities of this category of mental health disorders can be valuable for understanding and supporting loved ones or protecting ourselves from an unhealthy relationship with food.

On Transitions

  • Eating disorders can emerge from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While the experience of attending college involves several social and academic changes, the process of transitioning to the unpredictability of dorm life can be a tremendous stressor on its own. Some students may turn to changing their food patterns and intake to increase their sense of control.

  • The first year of college can be isolating as friendships haven’t quite developed. Students might not want to burden their parents and avoid reaching out to protect their newfound independence as college students. Nonetheless, insecurities and social comparisons can fuel anxieties around identity, leaving students isolated and tempted to compare both their food intake and body size to that of their peers.

  • Individuals differ in regards to their stress levels and access to support systems. While students may feel more comfortable in isolation, harmful coping mechanisms are less likely to be noticed behind closed doors. Reaching out to roommates, counselors, or family members can be life-saving. If you suffer in your relationship with food, I encourage you to reach out to people in your communities. Eating disorders are more common than we may realize and you might be surprised that you are not alone in your suffering; perhaps the person you choose to confide in has shared similar experiences or known someone else that has.

  • For new students, navigating the food options dining halls have to offer can be challenging. Students might experience a lack of agency by not having access to a kitchen or say in preplanned dining hall meals. Students might also experience pressure with expectations of establishing new friendships and negotiating interpersonal interactions during mealtime. Eating at a dining hall can be a difficult adjustment for anyone, especially after a pandemic; eating in the presence of other people might feel like a foreign concept for some.

  • Diet talk is often noticeable in dining halls, with students criticizing each other for their food choices. This behavior can be very triggering for students suffering from their relationship with food. While taking a to-go box can be an option, a powerful reaction can be to ignore the comment or respond. Often someone’s judgment can be a sign of their own struggles or internalization of diet culture. Having pre-formed scripts can ease these interactions. Some examples of scripts that I have seen used are: “I’m sure it’s not personal, but I am enjoying my food and your judgment makes me uncomfortable,” or humorously say, “eyes on your own plate.”

  • Transitioning to college can be financially stressful. Often, students aren’t used to paying for books and supplies, let alone their own groceries. Financial stress can lead to food restriction and feeling guilty for purchasing the bare minimum one needs to nourish themselves.

These are just a few reasons why eating disorders can arise on college campuses and why working towards destigmatization is indispensable. While no one is to blame for having an eating disorder, it is incredibly important to get help as soon as possible to increase one’s chance of full recovery. I hope you stick around for this discussion on eating disorders, with monthly posts touching on the harms of diet culture, the complexities of body image, and the support we can foster with education and awareness of available resources.

If you have any suggestions or topics you would like covered, feel free to email me!

Instagram Resources: @beatingeatingdisorders @theeatingdisordercenter @​​notquitebeyonce @meganjaynecrabbe @sonyareneetaylor @antidietriotclub @mynameisjessamyn @whatmiadidnext @megsy_recovery @jessicawilson.msrd @virgietovar @jennifer_rollin @the_bodylib_advocate @yrfatfriend @chr1styharrison @ragenchastain

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