Eating Disorders on College Campuses During COVID-19
by Julianna Strano
College students remain isolated as the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic continues. As the stress and uncertainties remain constant, the number of individuals experiencing disordered eating and body image issues rises.
For many people, disordered eating begins as a way to cope with uncertainties or stresses in life. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reported an enormous spike in the number of calls and online chats to its Helpline as compared to the same time period last year.
Edie Stark, who is the founder and owner of Edie Stark Therapy, explains how college students are missing out on a lot and are having to adjust. She specializes in emerging adults and runs @ediestarktherapy on Instagram, where she posts content to educate and inspire others.
Edie knew she wanted to have a career in this field when she was 12. In middle school, she had friends struggling with eating disorders.
“I checked out every book in the library to understand what they were going through,” she said.
The pandemic is something that is out of everyone’s control.
“Living in a worldwide pandemic for a year causes stress,” Edie said.
She explains how some people deal with the stress and what they may do to feel in control of the situation.
“I can’t fix that, but what I can do is not eat,” she said.
Students are spending more time online for their classes, which means they are being influenced by the media more.
“More time with screens, more time online, more seeing things in the media,” Edie said.
Due to lockdowns, college students no longer have as many outlets to socialize in.
“We don’t have any outlets. We are stuck,” she said.
Edie discusses how college students and young adults have many stressors. In this age group, people are adjusting with moving to college, leaving friends and family, and their childhood behind. COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the pandemic is another stress being added to their lives.
Danielle Hoffman, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in eating disorders, anxiety, and adolescents, explains the connection between COVID-19 lockdowns and eating disorders.
“They 100% connect. Eating disorders are worse than they have ever been during the pandemic—the uncertainty and lack of feeling like you have a purpose,” Danielle said.
With the increase of screen time and stress, eating disorders are becoming more normalized by college students. Some people do not realize that the habits they have begun and the phrases they say are signs of an eating disorder.
“It is easy for people to fall into it without even realizing,” Edie Stark said.
College students, for example, will often skip meals to “look better at pool parties” or skip a meal to “save calories” for later because they want dessert or a drink with friends.
Edie explains how just because these behaviors are normalized and popular, it doesn’t mean they are healthy to engage in.
“[It] makes me cringe. It’s what everyone is fed. It’s all you know unless you know different.”
Danielle said, “We all have different bodies and can’t play games or bully our bodies. It’s hurtful.”
Students are spending more time in front of their screens compared to previous years.
“There is this idea that is put out there that there is one body that we all should have that is good and healthy. Less than 1% of the population has that body,” Danielle said. “We are fed this idea that if you are anything but this then it’s wrong. If you are constantly bombarded with ‘this is what you should be,’ it will have negative effects.”
Danielle was inspired by her own personal experience with recovery to spread awareness. Through her Instagram account, @danihoffmanmft, she motivates others and spreads awareness about eating disorders.
Danielle’s favorite post on her Instagram is what she posted from her wedding. She shared why her recovery was worth it and gave others inspiration.
“THIS. THIS is why recovery is worth it,” she stated in her caption.
Jan Courtney has been working as the group leader of C.E.D.A.R. (Campus Eating Disorder Awareness and Recovery Group) at The University of Arizona for about 4 years. Jan explains how we are aware of the problem and need to have more discussions. C.E.D.A.R gives students that opportunity.
“It creates a safe place to talk about the types of things—how women feel about their bodies and their relationships with food,” she said.
As the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic continues, many agree that it is important to have conversations, educate, and support each other.
“Across the board, having conversations is the most important part,” Jan said.