Eating disorders plague college campuses around the country

By Jen Wozniak
September 18, 2008

It’s a given; college can be full of stress, anxiety and the pressure to fit in. Many college students wrongly try to treat these problems by adopting an eating pattern that may become an eating disorder. In the college population, one out of five people are bulimic and one out of 10 are anorexic, with 90 to 95 percent of those suffering being females. ?Eating disorders are not just about food.

“It’s not about weight, numbers or sizes, but about coping with something else,” Holly Grishkat, psychological director at the Renfrew Center in Radnor, Pa., said.

Andrea Sussel, a staff counselor at Cabrini’s counseling services and adviser to the Body Image Coalition, describes eating disorders as a “maladaptive coping skill” and an “attempt to be in control and feel good enough to be accepted.” When they feel as if they are struggling and cannot control what is going on in their life, they may focus on what they can control their weight.

College is a time when many eating disorders can reappear or develop due to a variety of reasons. Some of them include fear of the “freshman 15,” close living conditions where pressure to be thin is intensified, coping with more stress and living in a new environment, unlimited access to food in the dining hall and sports, where they feel they need to be a certain weight to be successful.

“People with eating disorders have a really hard time with transitions,” Grishkat said. This could cause people who had an eating disorder in the past to relapse, or those with eating disorders coming to college to struggle more than others.

The media today places a lot of emphasis on being thin and sexy. Many people feel as though they need to look “good” in order to fit in or find a partner.

“I think people today are more concerned about their image and what they look like because society places so much pressure on it,” Jackie McKeon, junior elementary education major, said. McKeon said that she knew many people in high school with eating disorders.

The three kinds of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Some signs of an eating disorder include skipping meals, isolating oneself, mood changes, extreme weight loss or weight gain, preoccupation with food and body size and spending excessive time in the bathroom.

If you believe you or someone you know has an eating disorder, do not be afraid to get help. However, according to Sussel, don’t force someone to get help, aim accusations or even focus on making someone eat. Express your concern for friends by saying things such as “I miss you,” “You’re not acting yourself” and “I’d be happy to assist you in getting help if you choose.”

Telling someone with an eating disorder that they look skinny will also not help the problem, but could actually further along the disorder when they take this as a compliment and want to continue what they’re doing.

There are many ways that students can receive help or advice on campus about eating disorders or simply being healthy. The Body Image Coalition is a group that was started last year that educates people about how to manage their weight and exercise without going to the extreme. It helps teach people that you do not have to be thin to be happy and successful, which is what the media portrays.

“We want people to feel comfortable in their body no matter what shape or size,” Erin Morgan, Body Image Coalition student leader, said. It is important for young adults to learn how to be comfortable with their body size. “I hope that people learn a lot from the group and take it with them after college because it’s an important issue,” Morgan said. The Body Image Coalition meets once a month and plans various events and speakers for Cabrini. Students are encouraged to join. Contact Morgan at for more information.

The Transforming Body Image Support Group at Cabrini is another alternative for people who are just struggling with food or weight issues to more severe cases of eating disorders. This group meets on Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. in counseling services across from the campus bookstore.

In addition, the counseling service at Cabrini is free and confidential and is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with walk-ins welcome between noon and 1 p.m. Students can also take a free online health screening at to see where they stand and if they need help.

If you want to look off campus for help, the Renfrew Center is a treatment facility for people with eating disorders that is located right down the street from Cabrini in Radnor. This center has a very relaxed, welcoming feel, and people can also be referred there by Cabrini. Renfrew has multiple programs that treat people at all different stages of their disorder.

It is true, there are varying degrees of eating disorders. Sussel said that eating disorders at Cabrini are a “moderate problem in varying degrees.” Problems range from freshmen having a hard time adjusting to school and the cafeteria, causing their appetite to be off, to people with severe cases needing treatment and hospitalization.

?All counselors at Cabrini’s Counseling Services are equipped to treat people with eating disorders. The counselors advise not to let an eating disorder take over your life. Sussel said, “You’re not alone. Don’t sit with your problem alone and worry. There is so much help available on this campus.”

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Jen Wozniak

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