Back to school stress: 10 common signs of an eating disorder

Posted on 10/05/22 06:21:pm College eating disorders


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Starting college means new experiences and new routines. While change can be exciting, it can also cause stress and anxiety for some.

“It’s common to see eating disorders develop or relapse during freshman year,” says Brad Smith, MD, medical director, Oconomowoc Campus and Eating Disorder Recovery, psychiatrist. “It’s the first time kids are away from the watchful eyes of their parents, and they’re often not home until fall break. Things can get bad quickly.”

Studies show the median age of onset for an eating disorder is 18-years-old for bulimia and anorexia, and 21-years-old for binge eating. Ten to 20% of women and 4 to 10% of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, and rates are on the rise.

10 possible signs of an eating disorder

Dr. Smith says 10 possible signs of an eating disorder include:

  • Preoccupation with weight, food, and calories
  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight gain or loss
  • Refusal to eat certain foods
  • Appearing uncomfortable eating around others
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
  • Withdrawing from usual friends and activities
  • Continual dieting
  • Frequently checking the mirror
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Dressing in layers to hide weight loss or stay warm

“Seeing a loved one is not just a way to recognize any physical problems being caused by an eating disorder,” says Dr. Smith. “It also makes it more possible to notice the nonverbal signs of distress and will likely strengthen the support and connection the student feels.”

Dr Smith says no one chooses to have an eating disorder. Oftentimes, people think it’s a choice rather than an illness.

“I haven’t met anyone who woke up and decided they were going to have an eating disorder,” says Dr. Smith. “People begin with a behavior that was well intended, but it can get away from them. It may have even started out as healthy, but at some point, they start to do the behavior more excessively and they no longer have control of it.”

While eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, recovery is possible.

“There’s a perception that eating disorders are untreatable, but that’s simply not the case,” says Dr. Smith. “Our experienced and dedicated teams create personalized plans using cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients find their path to recovery. Our outcomes show our treatment works.”

Click here to watch Jordan’s story of hope and healing.

Eating disorder treatment at Rogers

Rogers offers multiple levels of care for eating disorder treatment for children, adolescents, and adults. To request a confidential screening, you can submit a form online, or call 800-767-4411 for Oconomowoc, West Allis, and Brown Deer in Wisconsin.  For all other Rogers locations please call 888-927-2203

If you do not feel you or your loved one needs treatment right away, but may be concerned, we offer online quizzes to possibly provide some relief. While these quizzes do not provide a diagnosis, it could be the first step in finding the treatment you may need. Take our online Eating Disorder Quiz today.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.