Colleges and universities around the country are reporting an increased prevalence of
eating problems among young female students. Difficulties include obsession with food,
starvation dieting, severe weight loss, obesity, and compulsive binge eating, often
followed by self-induced vomiting (Hesse-Biber, 1989, p. 71). What are the reasons for
eating disorders among college-aged women? It is the purpose of this paper to discuss this
question and give an overview of several possible answers, determined following an
examination of current psychological literature in this area of concern. The reasons for
difficulties around the issues of food and eating are myriad and complex. They touch on
every aspect of being female, and no single answer sufficiently explains the phenomenon of
college students who overeat or undereat as a response to stress. In her book, Anatomy of
a Food Addiction, author Anne Katherine calls eating the “great escape” and pinpoints the
vulnerabilities of women to childhood origins (1991, p. 70). She believes that girls are
taught that they cannot fight or flee. Unlike boys, who have the outlets of strenuous play
and fighting to release anger, girls are taught that they must cope within the difficult
situation while remaining there. In the girl-child’s attempts to find solace in a situation
from which she cannot escape, she learns that sweet food will release chemicals that
soothe her when she is frightened and angry. Thus, she learns rather early in life that food
gives her a way to avoid feeling trapped and overwhelmed. This conditioned response to
stress then carries over into adult living, and in situations where the young woman feels
overwhelmed, frightened, cornered, confused, miserable, or lonely, the body seeks relief,
and the whole organism tries to lead her into a way of release. Even if the woman has
made a conscious decision to not overeat in response to stress, the whole person has been
deeply trained to eat anyway, and she automatically, unthinkingly reaches for something to
eat or drink. This drive for release is almost unstoppable (Katherine, 1991, p. 71). Ms.
Katherine describes this strong drive for eating in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of
needs–safety and security come far before appearance and artistic taste. Therefore, if the
student feels fear or uncertainty (which are common emotions among college students!, it
is natural to reach for substances that she has learned give her a feeling of security and
safety. Apparently in women who overeat or undereat, there has often been a childhood
background of profound deprivation and emotional deficit. Such individuals learned in
their families that they were not wanted, worthwhile, or valued. They did not learn to ask
for help or to expect their needs to be met. They did not learn healthy ways to handle
conflict, difficult emotions, or disappointments. They have not learned that the solution to
loneliness is to seek friendship. Such individuals may have been severely abused in their
homes and have no knowledge of awareness of the abuse (Katherine, 1991, p. 52). This
type of woman may have been screamed at as a child when she expressed a need. She has
become accustomed to fear. With such a background, the food addict is a person who
expects to only have minimum needs met. She has learned that her needs will probably go
unmet, even if she asks, and she adapts. The needs for affection, trust, safety, and honesty
do not go away, but they move underground and surface in the adaptive response of food
difficulties. Most people who suffer from eating disorders have severe, long-term
deprivation in regard to their emotional needs. Leighton C. Whitaker discusses the specific
characteristics of the college environment and lifestyle that contribute to the problem of
female students with food. The college environment is similar to a family. It may bring
demands, attitudes, support systems or lack of support. There are constant concerns with
finances, transitions, the physical structure and atmosphere, as well as relationships with
faculty, staff, and the other _ 1 students. The academic studies themselves may be
unfamiliar and difficult at times. Student support services may not contribute any help to
the student who has eating difficulties (Whitaker, 1989, p. 117). Going to college is an
important transition for most

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