University Students At Risk

Published: September 3, 2014

Beginning college is a monumental transition in the lives of adolescents all over the world. This transition brings with it a mixed bag of blessings and challenges. Students sacrifice their safety nets of family, friends, and hometown familiarity for a world of boundless opportunity; exposure to diverse cultures; limitless knowledge; and, on the darker side, new challenges and stressors. They start to feel both physical and mental pressures including demanding academic schedules, cafeteria-style eating, changes in physical activity, pressures to “fit in,” and making new friends.

The many challenges of the university experience can turn college campuses into “incubators” for eating disorders. Transition times are typically high-risk periods for the emergence of eating disorders and the sheer number of changes that the transition to college entails can create the perfect conditions for the emergence of an eating disorder. It comes as no surprise that eating disorders are prevalent on college campuses. Studies indicate that 91% of women in college attempt to diet in order to control their weight, while 25% engage in binge eating and purging. Up to 61% of college students (of both sexes) exhibit disordered eating. The most common eating disorder on campuses is probably one you might never have heard of, namely binge-eating disorder, or BED. BED is characterized by binge eating (eating an unusually large amount of food in a discrete period of time and feeling out of control over eating or like you can’t stop eating).

Raising awareness about body image and healthy eating can be a first step in removing weight stigma and reducing eating disorders on college campuses. Educate yourself about eating disorders so you will be better equipped when trying to help someone in need. After doing so, raise awareness so that other students understand what eating disorders are and how they can find help if they need it. Here are a few tips for helping your friends who are battling eating disorders:

  • Tell your friend you are concerned about them and have an honest conversation where the focus is not on body image, but rather on health
  • Compliment your friend’s success, personality, and achievements—not just their appearance
  • Be a good role model – exemplify healthy eating habits
  • Let your friend know you are always available for support and help
  • Make your friend aware of the resources on campus. Offer to accompany them if they choose to take advantage of these resources
  • Recognize and set your limits. If the situation is out of control, go to a professional.

Many college campuses have resident advisors (RA) in their dorms who can counsel and refer them to professionals for treatment. There are many college organizations that focus on erasing the stigma of mental health and eating disorders, and can be great support systems for individuals suffering from eating disorders on campus. Moreover, within campus health there is usually a counseling and psychological services division (CAPS). Any student who wants to discuss his/her physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental well being can walk in or set up an appointment with a counselor for individual, couples, or group therapy. University affiliated hospitals also exist and may house specialized eating disorder centers that provide therapy, nutritional counseling, medication management, and physical monitoring.

For students at UNC-Chapel Hill who may be suffering from an eating disorder or know someone who is, a list of resources can be found on the UNC CEED website. Also, register to attend one of Embody Carolina’s 4-hour peer lead workshops, which provide education and training to students on how to serve as compassionate and effective allies to those struggling with eating disorders on campus. Embody Carolina is an accredited Buckley Public Service Scholars (BPSS) Skills Training and can be used to fulfill the requirements of the BPSS program. You can also join the Embody Carolina team, serving on the leadership board, leading training workshops, or participating in outreach initiatives on campus, thereby helping to create a more protective environment for individuals vulnerable to or currently struggling with eating disorders on campus.


National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2014.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. N.p., 1976. Web. 11 Aug. 2014


photo credit: Avolore via Creative Commons