published : 2023-09-06

How Parents Can Help as Eating Disorders Increase Among College Students

Experts say up to 20% of females and 10% of males on college campuses suffer from disordered eating

As eating disorders increase among college students, here's how parents can help: ‘Early intervention is key’. - Photo prompt: An image of a supportive parent talking to a college student, offering guidance and understanding. (Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

The prevalence of eating disorders among college students is on the rise, posing a concerning trend that requires early intervention.

According to experts, an estimated 10% to 20% of females and 4% to 10% of males in college suffer from some form of disordered eating.

This alarming increase in eating disorders among college students has been further accelerated by the pandemic.

A recent study involving a diverse population of 260,000 students revealed a 13% increase in eating disorders between 2013 and 2021, with a noticeable spike of 3% post-pandemic.

Certain groups, such as athletes and those engaged in weight-sensitive sports like running, ballet, and wrestling, are particularly vulnerable.

To shed light on the factors contributing to this concerning trend, Dr. Melissa Spann, chief clinical officer at an eating disorder clinic, shares her insights.

Transitioning to college can be overwhelming for students, as they face social and academic pressures while trying to fit in and meet certain standards.

The desire to perform academically and be socially accepted can lead to the adoption of unhealthy coping mechanisms, including behaviors associated with eating disorders.

As students leave home and lose their established routines, finding nutritious and satisfying meals becomes a challenge.

Up to 20% of females and 10% of males on college campuses suffer from disordered eating, experts say. - Photo prompt: A diverse group of college students engaging in a healthy meal together, promoting inclusivity and positive eating habits. (Taken with Nikon D850)

College students often struggle to maintain a healthy meal schedule and make food choices that support their well-being.

The dining hall, with its multitude of options and crowded atmosphere, can further exacerbate the difficulties faced by students with disordered eating.

Social dynamics also play a role in the development of eating disorders, as individuals often receive positive reinforcement for weight loss, leading to a dangerous cycle of unhealthy behaviors.

The impact of social media cannot be ignored, as it contributes to the onset and worsening of eating disorders and other mental health issues.

Detecting warning signs of disordered eating varies depending on the age of the individual.

Parents should pay attention to subtle changes in eating habits, such as skipping meals or consuming excessive amounts of food.

Eating disorders manifest in different ways, including binge eating, engaging in purging behaviors, compulsive exercise, and the adoption of food-related rituals.

To support their child's well-being, parents should promote body positivity and avoid discussions about dieting, weight, and clothing sizes.

By cultivating mindful eating habits at home, parents can positively influence their children's relationship with food and set them up for success in college.

While most of us have heard about the 'Freshman 15', a growing share of young adults are experiencing quite the opposite. - Photo prompt: A college student engaging in a physical activity like yoga or jogging, promoting a balanced lifestyle and body positivity. (Taken with Sony Alpha a7 III)

Parents should also think about the language they use when discussing their own bodies and eating habits, emphasizing self-compassion and healthy habits.

Regular communication and check-ins, both through video calls and in-person visits, are crucial to stay connected with college-age children and assess their well-being.

Preparing students for the challenges of college life, including navigating dining halls and making nutritious choices, is essential for their success.

Encouraging test runs and providing guidance on meal preparation can empower students to take control of their own nutritional needs.

If warning signs of disordered eating are present, it may be necessary to seek help from third-party experts, such as on-campus counseling services or nutrition professionals.

Early intervention is key to treating eating disorders, and parents should not hesitate to ask tough questions and take action when necessary.

The path to recovery is possible, but addressing the issue promptly can make a significant difference in the outcome.