College is a time of unprecedented freedom and transition in a young person’s life. It can be a time full of excitement, but also of new challenges. Coping skills that worked in the past may not have the same level of success, and the ability to feel in control of new surroundings may seem out of reach. For some, the college years can open the door for eating disorders to develop, return or worsen.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10-20% of women in college, and 4-10% of men in college, struggle with an eating disorder—and it’s believed those percentages are increasing. But why? Beyond the stressors that come from this time of transition, other factors that may influence the development of eating disorders include:

  • More independence
  • Lack of access to affordable, healthy foods
  • Lack of nutrition knowledge
  • Fewer organized sporting activities, leading to less exercise
  • Different food environment
  • School and social stress
  • Alcohol intake
  • Social factors (e.g., what a person’s friends are eating)
  • Busy schedules
  • Lack of parental control/influence over diet

Additionally, studies show that college athletes are particularly at risk for eating disorders as they may be pressured to have lean bodies.

Identifying signs of eating disorders. The signs and symptoms of eating disorders may not be obvious or may be hidden in some cases. Some warning signs include:


  • Unusual and rapid weight fluctuations
  • Fainting, fatigue, low energy, interrupted sleep
  • GI discomfort, dysregulation, bloating
  • Dry hands/hair or poor circulation
  • Hair loss or development of lanugo (fine facial/body hair)
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • For females, disruption in menstruation


  • Dieting or chaotic food intake
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, size and shape
  • Excessive exercise
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Change in clothing style (sometimes to hide or flaunt the body)
  • Eating in isolation


  • Severe mood swings
  • Increased isolation, irritability, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)
  • Low self-esteem, complaints about body
  • Perfectionistic tendencies
  • Sadness, comments about feelings of worthlessness
  • Increased depression and/or anxiety

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