College Binge Eating

College Binge Eating

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Binge eating disorders affect people of all ages, but are especially prominent among college students.

The Massachusetts Eating Disorders Association cites the following statistics on college student eating disorders:

  • 15% of women 17 to 24 have eating disorders
  • 40% of female college students have eating disorders
  • 91% of female college students have attempted to control their weight through dieting

While recent information is not available, experts say the incidence of binge eating disorders among college students who are males is also increasing. According to one study on college student eating disorders, 5% to 20% of college females and 1% to 7% of college males have eating disorders (Johnson & Connors, The Etiology and Treatment of Bulimia Nervosa, 1987).

Binge Eating Among College Students

Binge eating is the most common eating disorder among college students.

Binge eating disorder, as the name implies, is characterized by uncontrollable, excessive eating, followed by feelings of shame and guilt. Binge eating is especially common among college students.

Unlike those with bulimia, college students with binge eating disorder typically do not purge their food. However, many college students who have bulimia also have binge-eating disorder.

Binge eating among college students typically results in individuals being overweight or obese. They feel like they have no control over their behavior, and eat in secret and when they are not hungry. College students with binge eating disorder also feel shame and remorse over their behavior. They may hide food. Excessive amounts of food containers and wrappers are also evidence of binge eating among college students.

Other signs include:

  • Binge eating in secret
  • “Grazing” continuously without feeling satiated
  • Binge eating when stressed or when feeling uncertain how to cope
  • Feeling unable to control how much they eat
  • Experimenting with different diets

About one in five young women report that they have had binge eating symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Men account for about 40% of cases of binge eating among college students.

The Medical Impact of Binge Eating Among College Students

College students with binge eating disorder are susceptible to health problems caused by being overweight, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Those with binge eating disorder symptoms who are obese increase their risk of heart diseases, many types of cancer and gallbladder disease. Binge eating among college students often takes place along with other psychiatric illnesses, especially depression.

Causes of Binge Eating Among College Students

While more research is needed before we understand the causes of binge eating and other eating disorders, we now know that several factors can lead to binge eating among college students. While there is no single root cause, we believe that people with binge eating disorder symptoms have a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects their behavior.

Genetics are also a major factor, as are cultural ideals about body image. A traumatic event, which may have taken place years before binge eating disorder manifests itself, may also have an impact. Such events may include sexual abuse or rape, emotional abuse, parents’ divorce, death of a loved one or a history of being teased or ridiculed.

Helping College Students With Binge Eating Disorder

If you suspect you or a college student you know has a binge eating disorder, seek professional counseling immediately.

For help treating college students with a binge eating disorder, contact Walden Behavioral Care at 781-647-6727 or online. Our Eating Disorder Treatment Program provides discrete, highly specialized treatment for college students with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder and other eating disorders.