Recent studies have shown that approximately 32% of female college students are suffering from some form of an eating disorder. And according to the National Eating Disorders Association, full-blown eating disorders typically develop between 18 and 21 years of age, during which time many young women are completing their undergraduate degrees. An eating disorder is a very complex, potentially life threatening condition caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social or environmental factors. For those young women predisposed to developing an ED, juggling the stresses of college finals and other related commitments can contribute to a worrisome lack of control and serious consequences.

The connection between stress, anxiety and finals suggests the need for stress awareness and effective strategies to help college students conquer their eating disorder triggers, during finals and beyond.

Ways to cope with the stress

Plan ahead– Organization can be a great key for managing stress levels. Before you allow your anxieties to take the wheel, take a deep breath and figure out a timeline for studying. This will help you prioritize time and energy based on how much preparation per exam you will need.

Maintain a balanced lifestyle –Eating well, getting enough sleep and taking care of yourself in general is the best way to cope with stress levels. Eating well-balanced meals of proteins, vegetables and fruits can actually improve brain functionality, allowing you to think clearly and concentrate even when stressed or exhausted. A healthy, well-balanced diet, no drugs or alcohol, eight hours of sleep a night and some down time each day is the perfect recipe for preventing you from dwelling on stress.

Take a break – Give yourself permission to step away from studying and focus on something else. It is critical to take the time to gather your thoughts, gain a new perspective and clear your mind. Taking a 15-20 minute walk can be very beneficial – moderate exercise releases endorphins, resulting in a better mood.

Have a positive outlook – When you start to stress out about studying or getting a project or paper done, your mind builds a case for why what you believe is going to happen will happen. To combat these thoughts from spinning out of control, come up with specific ways to counter them with positive thoughts. Think of ways you can create time to study, work on the project or finish your paper and how your previous thoughts weren’t logical or helping your situation.

Winter break is a good time to assess changes in college-aged children

As college students are home for winter break, it’s a good opportunity for parents to notice changes. The real tip off to an eating disorder may not be their appearance, but rather their mood and habits.

Is your child:

  • Depressed or anxious?
  • Isolating herself?
  • Obsessed with appearance, body size or food?
  • Avoiding eating with others?
  • Scrutinizing food labels?
  • Avoiding social activities?
  • Suddenly favoring loose, baggy clothing?
  • Disappearing after meals?

If you notice these warning signs in your child’s behavior, try having a casual review of the semester with them, touching on college in general and asking open-ended questions. Ask questions such as, “What went well for you this semester?” or “What were you disappointed with?” These questions could include anything from friends to grades to food, naturally progressing into delicate questions about the observations you’ve made over the break. Regardless of how this conversation goes, it’s important to know when to seek help.

How We Can Help

Final exams create a great deal of anxiety for everyone, even those without a history of eating disorders. The same stress that often pushes a student to achieve academically can result in disordered eating patterns – especially for students with a genetic predisposition or have previously struggled with an eating disorder. Know that you’re not alone, but it is essential you seek help. Recovery is possible. We have treated eating disorders for more than 20 years. We know recovery from an eating disorder is absolutely possible. It’s happening every day at The Meadows Ranch. Based on feedback from patients, families and professionals, the vast majority of our patients remain committed to a life of health, balance and purpose. For additional information about the treatment of eating disorders, please call to speak to a Counselor at 1-866-390-5100 and we will contact you with the information you need.