Frequently Asked Questions about Eating Disorders

Why are college students at-risk for development of eating disorders and related body image problems?

College students face new challenges, changes and adjustments, both academically and socially.  In the face of these challenges, eating patterns and habits can often be negatively affected.  For example, new college students may be on their own eating schedules for the first time. These students may develop eating patterns that become irregular and inconsistent. Such patterns may set the stage for skipped meals and/or over-eating.  Other students may develop a narrowly focused eating pattern that serves as a means of personal control and competency.  Their eating patterns tend to take on a restrictive pattern, often beginning with a diet and/or exercise program that is not being monitored by a health professional.

Why is this happening to my son/daughter now?


Risk factors associated with eating problems often begin with the transition to college.  With this transition, students find themselves in an environment with unlimited access to food.  With unlimited food choices, students can easily become overwhelmed and confused about what and when to eat.  Other risk factors relate to the semi-closed nature of college, which may intensify pressures to be thin and attractive.  Such pressures may reinforce students' sense of competition and personal insecurities.  As a means to cope with these pressures, students may place a great deal of effort and concern toward weight control and appearance.  Other risk factors may include difficulties with separation and independence from family and familiar friends and surroundings.  Those students experiencing other types of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or a history of abuse, may also be more vulnerable to many of these risk factors that lead to development of eating disorders.

I think my daughter/son may have developed an eating disorder.  I want to help, but I'm not sure how.

In some cases, how to help is clear and immediately necessary, particularly if he/she is in acute medical danger and/or has reached a dangerously low weight.  However, sometimes how to go about helping is not as clear.  In this case, parents may wish to consider several options, or the combination of these options.  The first option would be to arrange a consultation with a family physician or mental health professional to learn more about eating disorders and how to approach your son/daughter with your concerns.

The second option would be to consult with any number of national eating disorders organizations for advice and information about how to approach your son/daughter.  The third option would be to prepare your response following the guidelines for helping a friend.  These guidelines can be found in a document available on this website titled "Eating Disorders: Helping a Friend."

Is there anything else I can to do to help?

Yes!  There are a number of strategies to keep in mind as you continue to work toward helping your child with eating/body image problems:

  • Convey an attitude that resists the way in which the media tends to de-value the true diversity of human body types.
  • Do not encourage dieting.  Learn about the physical and emotional risks and pitfalls of trying to alter one's body shape through dieting.  Instead, encourage the value of moderate exercise, activity and the importance of eating a variety of foods in well-balanced proportions.
  • Demonstrate a healthy approach to exercise and eating, and promote self-acceptance.  For example, during family mealtimes, avoid categorizing foods into "good" or "bad."  Doing so may inadvertently reinforce fears of eating and food already being experienced by your child.  Also, avoid criticizing your own shape or body size in your child's presence. Children who are already sensitive to their body shape may take this as a sign that self-criticism is expected and okay.
  • Do not blame yourself.  Sometimes parents tend to blame themselves for difficulties experienced by their children.  Remember that eating disorders and related difficulties are not caused by a single factor.  Rather, eating disorders reflect a combination of multiple risk factors, typically genetic, emotional, and social in nature.  It is very likely that a combination of all three risk factors has put your child at-risk for development of eating problems, not you!

Campus Resources (UW-Stout)

  • University Counseling Center
    •(715) 232-2468
  • Student Health Services
    •(715) 232-1314

Other Resources

More Information

NOTE: Many of these links are not maintained by the Counseling Center or UW-Stout. They may be helpful but are not meant to replace consultation with a professional counselor. UW-Stout students should contact the Counseling Center for information about local resources.