The relationships students have with their eating habits and their bodies can be difficult, with societal pressure to look a certain way sometimes leading to unhealthy behaviors. Eating disorders are not fads or lifestyle choices; they are a huge issue, especially for college students.
Eating disorders are serious mental disorders that affect both men and women physically, psychologically and socially and can result in life-threatening consequences. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), college is an especially difficult time of development in which disordered eating is likely to arise, resurface or worsen for students.
Summer Steib, the Director of the LSU Women’s Center, said that this is especially true for women, and that a significant percentage of women in college are dealing with some type of disordered eating—from pathological dieting to full-blown eating disorders.
“Given the number of women students we have at LSU, we can assume that this is something that impacts many of our students; both directly and indirectly," Steib said. "Research has shown that disordered eating can have impacts on mental, physical, and emotional heath."
Steib mentioned how the Student Health Center, specifically Wellness and Health promotion, is a great starting point for students who are looking for help with their eating disorder. The center has a nutritionist specifically for students, as well as individual and group therapy available. The Eating Disorders Treatment Team, or EDTT, can also refer students whose condition may be of a higher gravity to an outside caregiver better suited for them.
The EDTT is a multidisciplinary team includes a physician, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a registered dietician, all qualified and caring professionals who can provide free and confidential guidance for University students experiencing disordered eating and body image issues.
Registered Dietician at the Student Health Center Emily Caire explained that in the U.S., an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders are usually associated with the female population, but Caire believes this is due to the fact that men are less likely to seek treatment than women are, and their cases may be underreported.
A 2017 survey of LSU students reported that 7 percent used compensatory behaviors of vomiting, taking laxatives or using diet pills in the last month; 19 percent engaged in binge or loss of control eating and 32 percent experienced obsessive thinking about food and body. Caire says that the stressors students are exposed to in college can create or strengthen disordered eating.
“Each person responds differently to stressors which can lead to healthy or unhealthy coping methods, including, but not limited to, eating habits,” Caire said. “College is a transitional time for many students. Living in a family home and having meals provided to living independently and being responsible for seeking out and/or preparing meals and snacks can be a difficult transition. As a result, this can have an impact on food choices.”
According to the Student Health Center, one in every five women struggle with some type of disordered eating but only one in ten receive treatment. Some students are unaware of their unhealthy relationship with food. A SHC brochure warned that 15 percent of young women who are not diagnosed with an eating disorder display a substantial amount of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors.
Some of these behaviors include the following: preoccupation with body weight or body fat, guilt after eating a meal or a specific food, skipping meals, obsession with food/calorie intake, excessive exercising, impulse vomiting after meals, binge eating (which may or may not be followed by purging), eating to soothe emotions and using laxatives or diet pills in hopes of controlling ones weight.
“ED awareness is a critical component to recognizing an eating problem,” Caire said.