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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Back to School May Trigger Eating Disorder

It is back to school time! My last post was about how to prevent gaining the “Freshman 15” when you start college, but there is another serious problem that happens to many other adolescents and young adults, with college being the most common time for it to strike. Here is my story.

I went to school out of state (I went to Purdue University and grew up in Wisconsin). I only knew one other person from my class going to Purdue, so I was worried about making new friends. Oh yeah, and then there was the concern of studying and getting good grades. These things were all on my mind, but of most concern to me honestly was gaining the Freshman 15. I had heard about it and saw how all the girls in the class above me were scrutinized when they came home for holidays and breaks to see if they had put on the dreaded pounds.

Of course, not everyone gains weight when they go to college. For many women, the pressure not to gain weight is overwhelming. Life is out of control with everything being new—new friends, new place to live, new classes, new everything! When life is out of control, many women (and some men) try to control the only things they do have control over--what they eat and how much they exercise. This can easily lead to an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. In fact, it is estimated that at least 10% of college women suffer from an eating disorder.

I did not gain any weight my freshman year, and in fact, I lost weight and fell into this trap of trying to control my external environment through controlling my what I ate and my exercise. I lived right across from the gym, and I quickly became the step aerobics queen and would often run or do stairmaster before or after an aerobics class. I became a vegetarian and restricted my food.

Luckily, my parents noticed right away what was happening and got me help fairly quickly. Eating disorders are very serious, and someone who falls trap to one lives with it the rest of their life. An eating disorder has very little to do with food, but is a psychological illness. If you suspect an eating disorder in anyone you love, approach them with compassion and love (not accusing). Wrap your arms around them to get them help.

Here are just a few of the signs and symptoms that someone you love may be falling into the trap of an eating disorder:

  • Withdrawal from normal activities
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or being fat
  • Acting hyperactive, depressed, moody, or insecure
  • Abnormal significant weight loss or weight gain in a short amount of time
  • Eating tiny portions, refusing to eat, or denying hunger
  • Exercising excessively or compulsively
  • Bingeing and purging
  • Secretive eating or hiding food
  • Disappearing after eating, often to the bathroom
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty about eating or overeating
  • Distorted Body Image

To learn more about Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating Disorder, check out these links:

National Eating Disorders Association

10 Things Parents Can Do to Prevent an Eating Disorder

Mirror Mirror

Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center

ANRED - Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.

National Institutes of Health: Facts About Eating Disorders

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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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