We must stop normalizing disordered eating habits in college

You have drunk too much. It happens. But what happens next doesn’t have to. Your friends casually suggest you “pull trig” — self-induce vomiting — to avoid a hangover. After mulling it over in your head for a while, you decide to. But the next morning, your hangover is still there, and you have, without realizing it, normalized an eating disorder tendency.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week passed just more than a week ago, but we should not only spend a few days educating ourselves on the issue – especially as college-aged students. The difficult transition from a largely dependent life to independent life laced with an incredibly persistent diet culture, harmful party culture and toxic academic culture is a breeding ground for eating disorder symptoms that cannot go unnoticed. We must continue to analyze these harmful personal and cultural tendencies that happen right on campus and work to quash them.

For one, binge drinking is universally on the rise despite parties and large gatherings being paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue is incredibly prevalent in colleges – we tend to adopt a “work hard play hard” mentality that everyone wants to follow. But binge drinking can lead to the adoption of “drunkorexia” – eating too little to compensate for the excessive drinking that will ensue. People more likely to binge drink have a higher tendency to binge eat, causing negative gastrointestinal, dermatological and endocrine effects. We don’t need to “rally” or be able to shotgun 10 beers – on an empty stomach or in general – to fit in in college or even have fun.

Let’s also talk about the “freshman 15,” because who cares if we lose or gain weight in college. First of all, the freshman 15 is fake. Not only is it made up to tack on another student stressor, but it allows for a running fatphobic joke. How frequently have you heard someone drop a comment about weight gain to validate a disordered eating habit? We develop new stressors and should not head into college in fear that our late-night french fries will cause us to gain weight. The mentality, which disproportionately affects female students, can lead to poor body image as well as restrictive eating practices. In order to maintain a healthy relationship with food and our bodies, we must empathize with stressed out students, while making healthy coping habits more mainstream. Instead of villainizing weight gain, associate going out to dinner with friends as a memory, not a calorie count. It is OK to eat fries at midnight, I promise.

At the end of the day, we just need to care about what we say and do when we talk about eating habits. Promoting binge drinking, encouraging forcibly throwing up after parties or criticizing weight gain in college is harmful. Especially during the pandemic, when students already experience more depression and anxiety than a typical year, we cannot normalize talking about disordered eating habits like they’re the college standard.

While it is important to avoid falling into these culturally perpetuated bad habits for your own health and safety, monitoring your relationship with party culture and stress will dramatically benefit the people around you. If you are one to casually drop how little you had eaten in a day, calories burned, jean sizes or assumptions about others based on their bodies, notice that and work to eliminate it from your vocabulary to protect your friends and strangers from potential triggers. Consider reducing your alcohol intake to reduce the urge of pulling trig. Eat with friends and family to ensure that you are not only taking a break from school but also feeding yourself food that nourishes your body and mind.

Gabriella Spina, a sophomore, is an opinions writer.

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