Female College Student on campus

How to Overcome an Eating Disorder at College

An Epidemic

Eating disorders are afflicting college students at campuses across the country at unprecedented proportions today. And the rates are on the rise.

A study conducted by the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA) revealed that 91% of women on the college campus they surveyed had attempted to control their weight through dieting. In another study, 25% of college-aged women reported that they engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique. It is increasingly clear that many male college students also struggle with extreme dieting, body image, and eating disorders. Nearly 20% of over 1,000 male and female college students in a 2006 survey by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reported they currently have or previously had an eating disorder.

A multitude of factors contribute to the rising rates of eating disorders diagnosed at this stage of life. As exciting as college may be, it also involves new levels and types of stress: greater academic expectations, pressure to determine your identity, increased athletic competitiveness, new social networks, more independent living, unfamiliar food sources and settings, loss of childhood, and the challenges of transition…to name a few!

Seeking Support

Unfortunately, far too many individuals suffering do not receive the help they need. This may be due to several factors, including:

  • Denial or minimization of disordered behaviors
  • Students unaware of resources
  • Schools lacking resources
  • Shame and fear of academic consequences

But there are resources available, including innovative initiatives aiming to better serve those struggling by meeting students in their environment, on their timeframe. One such program that addresses this crisis in a creative and accommodating way is Eating Disorder Recovery SpecialistsCampus Companion program.

When a student reaches out to EDRS for support, we match them with a Campus Companion—a trained eating disorder recovery coach who meets a student on or near their campus to help them navigate the challenges they are facing.

Courtney Levy, MHC-LP, is a meal support coach with EDRS who serves as a Campus Companion for students at schools in New York City. As such, she provides “meal support and coaching to recovering individuals in their day-to-day environment.”

On campus, Courtney explains, EDRS’s model of recovery coaching is “tailored specifically to meet the lifestyle and academic demands of the student. This may include eating with the student in their dorm, weekly grocery shopping to ensure easy access to meals during a hectic week of classes, and/or providing coaching to help the student manage school-related stressors and practice healthy coping skills.”

Students who may find the support of a Campus Companion useful include those who:

  • Over-exercise, restrict food, binge, purge, or emotionally eat
  • Are not maintaining a healthy weight
  • Recently returned to school after an off-campus treatment program
  • Struggle adhering to their meal plan while at school
  • Need accountability and support between nutrition and therapy sessions
  • Find their relationship with exercise or food to interfere with their academic and/or social life
  • Experience co-occurring issues, like eating disordered behavior and substance abuse

Courtney points out the distinctive complexities individuals in both college and recovery deal with—namely, “managing their recovery with the demanding nature of the academic and social school environment. I’ve witnessed how overwhelming and challenging it can be for clients to navigate both simultaneously.” The campus environment presents additional challenges, “such as limited food options or minimal access to cooking supplies.”

Your Unique Recovery

As Courtney points out, “Recovery is not one-size-fits-all. Each person has varied needs and comfort levels, so it is important to choose a support system that can understand where you are in your recovery and help you meet your specific goals.”

If you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, contact EDRS to learn more about if a Campus Companion might be a helpful source of support. You also may want to explore what resources your campus offers, such as eating disorder awareness events, peer support groups, campus health and counseling services, and residence life programs.