The transition to college is one often thought of with excitement; however, for those struggling with an eating disorder, this change can bring many concerns. As students make the transition from home to college, it can provoke stressful feelings that are expressed in many ways, for some that may be through eating disordered behaviors. The college transition is hard enough to manage, but with an eating disorder thrown into the mix it can feel overwhelming and at times impossible.

According to Maggie Klyce, Magnolia Creek Clinical Program Coordinator, “The peaks of when we see eating disorders develop and when symptoms tend to worsen are around times of transition. This makes the transition to college a high-risk time for either the development of an eating disorder, an increase in symptoms, or a relapse back into the eating disorder as students are learning to navigate new freedoms and new stressors.” The transition makes the risk so high, in fact, research estimates that eating disorders affect 10%-20% of college females, and 44% are dieting to lose weight.

In addition to the stress of leaving home, additional stressors can include the need for social acceptance and approval, homesickness, and increased independence and responsibility. Regardless of the source of the stress, it can fuel disordered eating behaviors. Binge eating and calorie restriction are both key indicators that an individual is in a precarious state of mind and might be suffering from a severe disorder.

  • Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by significant weight loss resulting from a restriction in calories.  Those suffering from anorexia do not recognize they are underweight and may even still feel heavy even at a dangerously low body weight.
  • Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binge eating and purging to rid the body of unwanted calories.
  • Binge Eating is the most common eating disorder in the United States, and involves eating large quantities of food in a short period; foods are typically high in sugar and fat, but low in nutrients.

The pressure to look a certain way is particularly true on college campuses, and while body image pressure alone is not the cause of an eating disorder, it can be an external trigger. Many of those struggling with an eating disorder may not even be aware they are suffering because eating disordered behaviors are common in the college environment. Dieting and cleansing are also common practices over a balanced diet of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. For those that do realize and accept they have an eating disorder, it can be difficult to seek help due to the dependency on the eating disordered behavior or the fear and shame they feel.

There are resources available to help students succeed in managing an eating disorder, mental health concern, or life in college. Colleges offer health and counseling services with information and education about eating disorders and mental health issues, and they can help in finding higher levels of care. Sometimes taking a break from college life to stabilize enough to return and succeed is needed, and while this can be challenging, it is important to know that it is possible and resources are available to help with this process.

At Magnolia Creek, we offer residential and partial hospitalization levels of care designed to support clients as they explore the contributing factors related to their eating disorder. Our evidence-based treatment model allows clients to interact with their peers and licensed therapists in a daily therapeutic process that integrates individual therapy, and experiential therapy and activities to build confidence, challenge distorted thinking, and help clients develop practical coping skills through experience and metaphor. Our goal is to help prepare clients as they transition back into life outside of treatment.

College can be an exciting time, but as triggers and risk factors emerge, it is important to practice steps towards preventing an eating disorder to help ensure success. Magnolia Creek’s comprehensive care plan for treating eating disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders restores health, and our collaborative treatment environment is essential to recovery. Using an evidence-based treatment model, we work with you to help you fully recover. To learn more about our program, please call us at 205-409-4220 or complete our contact form.