Clues to Eating Disorders in College Freshmen Home for School Break

Eating disorders are easy to conceal, especially when the college is far from home.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February 2012 Volume 23, Number 1
©2012 Gürze Books

When college freshmen across the U.S. come home for the holidays, parents and family members as well as friends may discover that their favorite student has developed an eating disorder during his or her first semester. Bonnie Brennan, clinical director of Denver’s Eating Recovery Center’s Adult Partial Hospitalization Program, Denver, notes that for many young adults, pressures of the first semester of college can create “the perfect storm” for developing an eating disorder. This is easy to hide from family members, particularly if the student attends college far from home.

Five winter break warning signs

According to Brennan, there are 5 winter break warning signs that may indicate that a teen has an eating disorder or could be at risk of developing one:

  1. Noticeable weight loss or weight gain since he or she entered college.
  2. Helping with the preparation of holiday meals but not eating them.
  3. Excessive exercise, even exercising outdoor in cold conditions.
  4. Withdrawal from family and friends, and avoiding social gatherings, even if she or she hasn’t seen family members and friends for months.
  5. Discussing college in a “stressed out” or obviously anxious manner or altogether avoiding conversations about school.

Parents are encouraged to seek assessment of eating disorders if they notice these or other troubling behaviors in teens home for winter break. According to Brennan, academic and social pressures and anxiety tied to being away from home for the first time are common triggers of first-semester eating disorders. A 2006 poll of U.S. college campuses conducted by the National Eating Disorders Association found that 1 in 5 college students believe that at some point they have had an eating disorder.

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