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The 'Freshman 15' Means More Than Weight Gain

The stresses of Freshman year can make students turn to food for comfort.

Disordered Eating

The flip side of this weight gain is disordered eating, especially excessive exercise, anorexia, and bulimia. It's a kind of Freshman 15 in reverse, only more serious.

"I see this disordered eating in people on campuses as they try to prevent the Freshman 15 weight gain," says Kimball. "We see overexercise, bingeing and purging, and anorexia. The worry over weight gain actually triggers an eating disorder."

She says that for young women, especially those who end up in a living situation with other women who have similar concerns, such as sorority houses, eating disorders can quickly snowball. She adds that the form the eating disorder takes depends on the person and the underlying psychological stresses at work.

"Some kids will rapidly lose 20 pounds and are exercising six hours a day or eating 1,200 calories a day," Kimball said. "Parents and friends are freaking out and don't know what to do. A certain number of these kids will self-correct the problem over a year or two, but a significant number will need some kind of counseling."

Holland agrees. "You see the same percentage of people with eating disorders on campus as you do in the general population. You also have some who arrive at school with an eating disorder already in place. Some will engage in these behaviors but will pull out of it quickly. For others it can become a lifelong struggle. That's why it's so important to get help and counseling right away on campus."

How can a parent help? The first thing to do is to talk.

"Parents can help by being concrete," says Holland. "Don't focus on the symptom. Ask your child, 'What's really going on?' You want to be aware of the problem and not minimize it, and part of that is intervening early by taking it seriously."

Campus counseling centers can be a big help, not just for eating disorders but for many types of problems that plague Freshmen. And both Holland and Kimball recommend that parents make every use of them.

"These students are on their own with the freedom to do what they want, and it takes most awhile to get a handle on that," says Kimball. "They're likely to need some help along the way."

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