Stressed for Finals? It May Trigger Eating Disorders

“For many young women, stress from school and finals can make them feel like they’ve lost control of themselves and their life. Often, they are tempted to compensate for these feelings by controlling their eating habits which can then lead to serious issues like anorexia and bulimia,” says JoAnna Shapiro, Executive Clinical Director of The Meadows Ranch. She adds: “What we want these young women to know is that they are not alone. At The Meadows Ranch we have treated over 10,000 individuals over the past 20 years with successful results—you just need to seek help and summer is the perfect time to get healthy and rejuvenate.”

College is a high-risk period for the onset of eating disorders for a number of reasons. While the transition into a new environment is an exciting time for young adults, it also comes with a wide variety of stressors, challenges, and potentially troubling life events that must be navigated. Many college students experience feelings of isolation and homesickness; pressure to achieve academically; difficulty negotiating conflicts with roommates; intense peer pressure; or traumatic events.

While on the outside it may seem like eating disorders are about food, weight, exercise, and eating, these symptoms usually represent more complex psychological or emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, perfectionism, low self-esteem, trauma, or relational problems with friends or family members.

College is often the first time many students are given the freedom and responsibility to make their own food choices. This can be anxiety-provoking for many people, especially when living situations such as residence halls make eating such a public event. Families differ in their food values and traditions, as well as the emphasis they place on weight, appearance, nutrition and fitness. When students from such different backgrounds come together to share a living environment, social comparison, competition, and self-consciousness can increase. Even young women with no history of dieting or preoccupation with their weight can start feeling insecure about their bodies and eating behaviors when they share such close quarters with individuals who obsess about these features.

Academic Pressure and Eating Disorders

Many students across the country, both college and high school, are currently pulling all-nighters and consuming excessive amounts of caffeine in an attempt to prepare themselves for their last academic exams before summer break. Cramming for tests coupled with numerous other end-of-term commitments can result in an emotional rollercoaster for young girls aiming for academic success.

The stress levels can be particularly intense for college students preparing to enter the “real world” or for high school seniors preparing to embark on the next phase of their academic futures. While finals are always viewed as a stressful and high-pressure time period for students, the anxiety caused by this time of the school year can have serious consequences for young women vulnerable to eating disorders.

Stress Management Tips

Stress occurs when you perceive that demands placed on you, such as school work, exceed your ability to cope. Although stress can be beneficial at time, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through tough situations like exams; it can also trigger disordered eating behaviors.

By finding positive, healthy ways to manage stress as it occurs, many negative health consequences can be reduced. There are numerous stress management tools to help conquer eating disorder triggers. The following tips can be used beyond campus life and finals:

  • Take a Break from the Stressor – It may seem difficult to take a moment to step away from studying, but when you give yourself permission to take a break you let yourself have time to focus on something else. This can help you gain a new perspective or distance yourself enough to cease feeling overwhelmed. Even just 10-15 minutes to take a walk can be massively beneficial.
  • Plan Ahead – A little organization can go a long way to helping manage stress levels. Before you begin to feel overwhelmed just take a moment to develop a timeline that indicates when important assignments or deadlines are due. This will help you prioritize time and energy based on how long each assignment or test preparation may take.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet – Did you know that meals consisting of fruits, vegetables, proteins and other fresh foods can actually improve brain functionality, allowing students to think clearly and concentrate even during times of stress or exhaustion? For example, vitamin C helps boost your immune system and fights brain-cell damage resulting from constant exposure to cortisol.
  • Change Your Thinking – When you start stressing about not finishing a project or a paper on time, your mind builds a case for why what you believe is going to happen will happen. In order to combat these negative thinking patterns, come up with specific examples to counter the stressful thoughts. Think instead of ways that you can create the time to work on the project or finish the paper, and how your previous line of thinking isn’t accurate.
  • Take Care of Yourself – You have to start with the basics, like sleep. When you are in high-pressure situations your body actually needs a means to cope with sky-rocketing stress levels. This includes a healthy, well-balanced diet, no drugs or alcohol, sleep (dramatically more than most young women think they need), and some down time. Taking time to pause from the relentless pace of academic life and focus on your health will help in preventing you from dwelling on school pressures to such a paralyzing degree.

If You’ve Relapsed or Have an Eating Disorder


You took a big step admitting you need 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 866-390-5100 and we will contact you with the information you need.

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