What’s Eating You: How to prevent eating disorders and the myth of “Freshman 15”

As the first month of college passes by and exams start to place stress on many students, especially freshmen, there are many health issues that suddenly start to arise. At times, students may feel depressed, stressed out about academic and social pressures, and feel anxiety from being away from home. “These pressures for young adults can create the perfect storm for eating disorders development,” says Bonnie Brennan, the Senior Clinical Director at the Eating Recovery Center. Leaving home for the first time can present challenges that freshman students may not have encountered when living with their parents. In this way, these challenges can result in dieting, over-exercising, and bingeing on food. “Eating disorders are complex illnesses with biological, psychological, and sociocultural contributing factors,” remarks Brennan. Common triggers that can trigger eating disorder are “dieting, stresses, social pressures, and even genetics,” according to Brennan.

Living in a society that is fear-based on weight and appearance has a direct impact on eating disorders, especially for freshmen. Most are worried of the “Freshman 15” and that they will gain 15 pounds over the first year due to overwhelming studies and work that they will have to face in college. However, the “Freshman 15” is a myth. In reality, Brennan says, “the ‘Freshman 15’ has been passed down from one generation to the next.” In fact, two research studies conducted separately in Auburn University and University of North Carolina showed that the “Freshman 15” is a just an exaggeration. In the study, the freshman subjects (male and females of various weights, heights, and ethnicities) being tested, gained only about 2 pounds during the first semester, a value much less than the popularized 15 pounds.

With the proper methods, eating disorders and the “Freshman 15” (which now should be called the “Freshman 2”), can be erased from our vocabulary. Students with some of the following symptoms may be at risk of developing an eating disorder:
· Sudden and dramatic weight loss
· Making excuses about why they are not eating
· Hiding/hoarding food even when hungry
· Poor concentration
· Excessive exercise

While a complete list of symptoms can be found on the Eating Recovery Center website (http://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/), those are some of the symptoms that may lead to eating disorders.

If symptoms like these are showing up, Brennan advises that, “focusing on eating when hungry, stopping when full, and incorporating a balance of foods” is important to preventing eating disorders. Brennan also says that staying active and eating a mixture of fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy and “fun” foods, including pizza and burgers, can balance diets of students at college. In addition, counseling services on campus can support and give recommendations on what to do regarding stopping the eating disorder. If the eating disorder escalates, students should report to professionals at a specialized facility, such as the Eating Recovery Center.

If you know you are developing an eating disorder or have an eating disorder, you are not alone! Eating disorders are life threatening illnesses that need to be taken care of. Seek treatments and discuss with family, friends, and the counseling services at school. If a friend or a loved one has an eating disorder, let them know you care about them and are worried. In essence, they will seek treatment due to your concerns for them. Just remember, taking care of your body in a normal manner and watching what you eat can prevent eating disorders.


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