Defining Disordered Eating


New pressures in college, including increased responsibilities, workload, and focus on friends and decrease in structure, may mix with anxiety, poor self-esteem, and perfectionism. For some individuals, this may lead difficulties with body image and eating. Social pressures during college may cause someone to believe they need to look or act a certain way. Or, someone may turn to controlling their diet and exercise in response to the difficulties in college. There are many ways that someone might develop an eating disorder or disordered eating. Disordered eating is not a type of diagnosable eating disorder, but is a serious concern for college students. Disordered eating behaviors include fad dieting and “clean” or restrictive eating. There are some signs that someone may be developing disordered eating behaviors.

  • Talking about food. Someone that talks about food in a judgmental or obsessive way may be heading toward a controlling or unhealthy relationship with food. Food is a necessary part of a balanced life and is fuel for the body. Individuals struggling with disordered eating may obsess over healthy versus unhealthy food, calories, eating too much, or different types of diet.
  • Negative body talk. Along with many other aspects of life during college, bodies also may change. In conjunction with social demands, some people start to compare themselves to others and view their body negatively.
  • Altered behaviors. Because of the many ways disordered eating behaviors occur, not everyone will develop the same type of behaviors. However, difficulties with eating and body image may generally result in someone withdrawing from social events, wanting to be alone when eating, or increasing the time they exercise.

It may sometimes be difficult to recognize disordered eating behaviors: more often than not, peers deem these behaviors to be acceptable. However, statistics show that up to 35% of normal dieters progress to unhealthy dieting- of those, 20-25% of individuals develop a diagnosable eating disorder. Early intervention in the case of disordered eating could prevent severe illness later.

For more information, check out the resources available through the Student Counseling Center.

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