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University life can lead to developmentng and recurrent eating disorders

Sending kids to college can be stressful for students and parents. Between newfound freedom, increased workloads, reduced structure, academic competition, increased social comparison, and miles from home, life as an undergraduate student is often largely uncharted territory.

Even before COVID-19 and the rise of associated mental health issues, researchers revealed startling insights into student mental health. A study, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, found that a third of first-year students deal with anxiety and depression at the start of the school year, and these numbers increase as they go. as the year progresses.

As if that weren’t enough, the college years also tend to intersect with the onset of most mental health issues. Half of all cases begin by age 14 while 75% of lifelong mental illnesses are present by age 24, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, with some of the conditions most dangerous and prevalent mental health issues in college. campus being eating disorders.

Navigating Mental Health Disorders

Trying to help young adults navigate their first real taste of “independence” — especially if you’re miles apart — can be a daunting task for parents. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many mental health issues, it has also helped to make mental health awareness a more mainstream topic. Now, there are helpful resources for parents and students and less stigma around mental health diagnoses, so neither people with eating disorders nor their loved ones have to struggle alone.

Additionally, most people with eating disorders also struggle with other mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD. Dealing with a mental health issue is rarely easy, and doing so in an unfamiliar environment – ​​often without a proper diagnosis – can be particularly difficult. By becoming familiar with the early behavioral, emotional, and physical warning signs of eating disorders, parents can better spot students’ problematic relationships with food and make early intervention a priority before symptoms become uncontrollable.

Eating disorders on the rise

The unique convergence of environmental triggers, academic stress, and neurodevelopment during the college years makes college students a high-risk population for the development of mental health issues, with eating disorders being among the most common. The prevalence of eating disorders among college students was stable from 2009 to 2018, but rose sharply in 2021 for both women and men, according to a study published in “Nutrients”.

Signs of trouble

Recognizing a student’s eating disorder can be especially difficult, especially when students aren’t home from school. Until it has progressed significantly, someone with an eating disorder can be quite good at hiding it from others.

Although different eating disorders have different symptoms, some common general signs that may suggest a problem include:

  • Increased interest in diets
  • Excessive monitoring of food intake or weight
  • Common Negative Body Image Comments
  • Bad eating habits, such as skipping meals or gorging
  • Rigid or excessive exercise programs
  • Significant changes in weight (loss or gain)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in mood or behavior

Early intervention

Early intervention can play a vital role in the effective treatment of an eating disorder, but many families struggle to find a treatment program that allows a student to continue their education while taking steps to improve their health.

“A delay in the treatment of eating disorders can negatively impact the likelihood of recovery and increase the duration of illness, prolonging suffering unnecessarily,” said Heather Russo, clinical director of Alsana, a national community food recovery that serves adult clients of all genders through in-person and virtual programs. “Parents of college students need to be aware of the risks and triggers young adults face during these vulnerable years so they can help address issues and warning signs as they arise.”

An option like Alsana’s adaptive care model is a holistic approach to treatment that strives to create an inspiring healing experience and focuses on the patient’s overall health through five main areas including medical treatment, nutrition, movement, therapy and developing a stronger sense of self. objective.

This personalized approach to treatment is available to students who are looking for flexible scheduling options, allowing them to get help remotely or on an outpatient basis.

“Because eating disorders touch so many facets of a person’s life, treatment must aim to heal the whole person so that it is effective, long-lasting, and nurturing,” Russo said.

Learn about eating disorder treatment options that can help your student develop a healthier relationship with food at


Eating Disorders During College Years

If you’ve noticed changes in your student but aren’t sure what’s wrong, an eating disorder could be the culprit. Identifying a problem is the first step to effective treatment.

If you’re concerned that your student has an eating disorder, reviewing the answers to these questions, discussing them together, and speaking with a doctor can help put your loved one on the road to recovery. Or, if your student tends to be more private, have them take a survey to learn more about the likelihood of an eating disorder at

  1. Are you trying to limit calories or foods?
  2. Do you make yourself sick because you feel unwell?
  3. Are you worried that you have lost control of the amount of food you eat?
  4. Have you recently lost more than 14 pounds in three months?
  5. Do you believe that you are “fat” when others tell you that you are too thin?
  6. Would you say that food dominates your life?