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Eating Disorder Culture in College

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

By Morgan Cole

I should’ve been given a trigger warning before entering my first year of college. College is essentially a petri-dish for eating disorder triggers. Most people don’t realize how toxic their behaviors are because we have grown up surrounded by a generation that normalizes eating disorders.

It’s almost daily that I hear a girl casually bring up how little she’s eaten. This isn’t always presented in an unhealthy way–sometimes we humans have days where we aren’t hungry and that’s perfectly normal.

However, the issue that can arise from someone voicing how little they’ve eaten on said day is that it can trigger those who struggle with body image and unhealthy eating habits. It can cause people to compare themselves and their eating habits to others, which can lead to a relapse.

This is just one of many disordered eating behaviors that have become normalized on college campuses. For example, choosing not to eat before going to a party in order to get drunk faster.

On the topic of partying, an extremely common act of “pulling trig” has not only become normalized but actually encouraged as a means of making you feel better. The issue here is that you’re training your brain to think that forcing yourself to get sick is the only means of relieving yourself when you feel bloated or nauseous, which can lead to very dangerous eating habits in the future.

The “freshman 15” is also a common college term. Personally, I had heard this phrase so many times before college that I became too focused on making sure I didn’t gain weight.

Instead of working out to better my mental and physical health, I was exercising on an empty stomach in order to burn as many calories as possible. Instead of eating to fuel my body, I was restricting myself in an attempt to be as thin as possible.

When you get too deep into an unhealthy mindset like this, it becomes easier and easier to get triggered by others’ behaviors.

Suddenly, a seemingly innocent comment from a friend regarding your food choice makes you feel unworthy of eating. Walking around campus and hearing a girl mention that she hasn’t eaten today makes your breakfast feel extra full in your stomach. It’s because of these reasons that you need to be careful what you say to those who are or have struggled with an eating disorder.

Substances can also play a pivotal role in eating disorder culture. Recently, nicotine has become a popular substance that young people use to fight hunger or substitute meals. Those who struggle with an eating disorder might begin vaping to curb their appetite and avoid meals.

This doubles the struggle that the person faces daily because they are now struggling with two addictions.

This subject matter is something that we can all continue to learn more about. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, there are many books, movies, and documentaries you can look into. I recommend a film on Netflix called “To the Bone” that is written and directed by a woman who suffered from an eating disorder.

Marti Noxon, the woman who wrote the script, said that the movie is loosely based on her past struggles with anorexia. The film stars actress Lily Collins, who also struggled with an eating disorder when she was a teenager.

You never know what someone is facing internally, so just remember to always love and support everyone around you.


What advice would you give someone battling an eating disorder? Let us know on Instagram, Twitter, or leave a comment!

Reach the writer on Twitter


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