When moving away from home, many college students experience changes in their eating behaviors. Often, students fear gaining the "freshman 15," and attempt to diet at school to avoid this unwanted weight gain. But when does this dieting become problematic?
Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself if your relationship with food has become potentially unhealthy.
1. Are you skipping out on social events to avoid food?
One major sign of an eating disorder is when someone distances themselves from their peers. If you find yourself skipping out on a night at the bars or a trip to the movies with your friends because you "can't eat" anything there, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with food.
2. Do you label foods as "good" or "bad"?
Have you ever found yourself thinking that you can't have that donut or ice cream cone because it's a "bad food"? If you're limiting your food choices due to fear of gaining weight from foods you normally enjoy, this may be a red flag for disordered eating.
3. Are you exercising more than normal?
If you're spending hours at the gym to compensate for that one piece of pizza you ate yesterday, it may be time to seek help. Many patients with eating disorders over-exercise in order to compensate for eating foods they label as "bad" or "unhealthy". Spending more time at the gym than normal is a key indicator that something may be wrong.
4. Do you ever binge on foods you've deemed "bad"?
Binging is defined by NEDA as both eating a significantly larger amount in a 2-hour period than someone normally eats, and also feeling a lack of control over the amount of food that you're eating. If you often binge on sweets or foods that you normally restrict yourself from, contacting a Registered Dietitian may be helpful.
5. Do you have compulsive behaviors surrounding food?
If you have specific rules you must follow in regards to food, this is a huge warning sign for an eating disorder. For example, you may not allow yourself to eat a snack between lunch and dinner, no matter whether or not you're hungry. It's important to honor your body's hunger signals rather than worrying about eating extra calories.
If any of these questions resonated with you, it may be time to seek the counsel of a Registered Dietitian for an eating disorder screening. NEDA's website has an online screening tool, as well as a helpline and a page to find treatment in your area.