We as college students are probably all familiar with the "freshmen 15" and how they have gotten their fair share of attention and shaming for reinforcing the eating disorder mentality that is ever so present in college campuses. However, we have failed to acknowledge all the other small, under the table, behaviors that may have the same effect or worse. Our culture has normalized disordered eating without even realizing. 

From common references like "pulling the trig" (throwing up after drinking too much) to romanticizing the idea of skipping meals because you're too busy, college campuses have become an environment where talking about eating disorder traits is normal, yet not spoken about. We have all these common phrases that should be quite alarming, and yet they are part of our culture, seen as normal, and even aspired by some. 

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As someone who struggled and recovered from an eating disorder, I thought I could identify all the signs. I had dealt with my own demons and had come to peace with food, so I didn't let harmful language like "freshmen fifteen" affect me, genuinely thinking I had everything under control.

However, fast forward two years, I came across a very spot-on Instagram post titled "The Normalization of Discorded Eating Culture in College" which highlighted examples of disordered eating as part of our culture. This is when I realized I was not out of the woods when it came to disordered eating. Additionally, I  realized how normal all these behaviors seemed to me. It was a very shocking moment to say the least. 

Eating Disorders 

Eating disorders are a prevalent issue amongst college campuses, with around 35% of students eventually developing an eating disorder or some sort of unhealthy eating pattern (disordered eating). However, this number doesn't even account for all those students that don't have the tools to identify their own disorder. 

Something very common amongst college students is disordered eating, which can be detected as non-normative eating behaviors. Conducts like jumping from one diet to another, eating in the absence of hunger or irregular meal patterns are some examples of disordered eating that you might be experiencing that could eventually lead to an eating disorder.  

Disordered Eating Culture

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Even if we think we have identified common causes of eating disorders, the influence of disordered eating in our culture goes way beyond what we recognize.

Harmful language can have a big effect on us as students, specially if it isn't recognized as harmful. The now common phrase "pulling the trig" refers to forcibly throwing up after too many drinks. It's sometimes to alleviate the stomach, sometimes to keep drinking, and in some cases to get rid of the calories from a night out. This is such a "normal" thing for us and yet it can be the start of an unhealthy relationship with your own body.

Tied to language we also have common practices like not eating before going out to get drunk faster or cancel out calories. Again, something we might not even associate with disordered eating. These toxic traits promote unhealthy habits that are part of our day to day lives. 

Another common behavior is romanticizing the "I don't eat because I'm too busy". I've been a culprit of this myself, feeling like I'm so cool for being focused and just having an iced coffee for lunch. It's easy to get lost in the stress and pressure of classes, but we have to draw the line and understand that this behavior is not something we should aspire to.

Now What?

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Once we realize what's happening, we are one step closer to solving the problem. It might be frustrating because it's not easy to change a whole culture. So, what can you do to help?

It all starts with setting an example and creating your own boundaries. Eliminate harmful language from your day to day, help stop making these things casual or funny.

Identify the little things that can trigger you or others around you. The more you understand your relationship with food the more comfortable you will feel. Some immediate action can be to be mindful of your intentions when eating and drinking, listening to your body for hunger and satiety cues, and even talking about these feelings with someone close. 

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If you feel comfortable, share this knowledge with your friends. A good friend is not the one holding your hair when you throw up, but the one who directs you to a better path. Inspire others to embrace their bodies and their struggles, so it won't have to come to such extent. 

Let's make college a healthier environment for students, inside and out.