This article is part of the Mental Health Collaborative, a project completed by nine North Carolina college newsrooms to cover mental health issues in their communities. To read more stories about mental health, explore the interactive project developed specifically for this collaborative.

Through his research on perfectionism and impulse behaviors, Elon psychology professor and clinician Bilal Ghandour has found that eating disorder behavior often evolves from a strong need to be perfect and an inability to let go of high demands. 

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders generally begin to develop between the ages of 18 and 21. 

While in college, students participate in classes and can be involved in clubs, internships or work — creating a heavy workload with high demand.

“College is a really tricky period because you’re thrust into a new world as a young adult, you’re asked to do so many things all at once and the pressure is high,” Ghandour said. “One way to contain that pressure and gain some level of satisfaction is through control. It can be by restricting ourselves to feel more powerful and in control, or you can feel out of control and have a desire to binge eat or eat excessively.” 

According to The Child Mind Institute, an organization focused on providing psychological and psychiatric services to children and families, 10 to 20% of women and four to 10% of men within the college demographic struggle with an eating disorder. 

Ghandour said college athletics could make an eating disorder worse for athletes due to the environment and expectations. He also noted that being in sports can create an environment of competition, sacrifice and perfectionism, which could lead to athletes creating certain negative eating habits or changing their perception of food. 

Apart from athletics, Ghandour said eating disorders can manifest in both men and women. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration reported that one-third of people with eating disorders are men. 

“For men, the manifestation of eating disorders has gone up a bit, but it usually manifests itself through a kind of body physique,” Ghandour said. “So if you want to gain muscles there can be a dysmorphic or an inappropriate way of looking at food and your body.” 

Ghandor said that within the last 10 to 20 years there has been a shift in the way that women want to look from tiny and thin to strong and skinny due to the body fitness movement making its way onto social media. This can manifest in different eating disorder behaviors such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or avoidant, also known as restrictive, food intake disorder.

Elon Campus Recreation and Wellness is raising more awareness of eating disorders affecting college students by holding events such as the Love Your Body Month in February.

SPARKS peer educator Ruby Glynn, who helps to promote holistic well-being throughout the Elon student body, is excited to celebrate the month and raise awareness of an issue that can affect anyone on any campus. 

“I am especially passionate about this kind of targeted space, because it is so prevalent on college campuses,” Glynn said. “It’s definitely a huge thing that everyone faces, it doesn’t matter who you are.” 

Throughout Love Your Body Month, Campus Rec and Wellness is holding group exercise classes and pop-up events. In addition, they are bringing in speakers to talk to students about mindful eating, disordered eating and loving their body. 

“We do ladies lift, which is going to get women into the gym and break that stigma of gym bros and focus on how intimidating it can be for a girl to be in the gym,” Glynn said.

While there are treatment options for people with eating disorders, such as psychotherapy, medical monitoring, nutritional counseling, medication or a combination of these approaches, people suffering from eating disorders cannot be treated unless they ask for help.

“We need to make sure that people still feel comfortable reaching out,” Ghandour said. “It’s so imperative that people feel, like your friend, or your roommate, or your classmate or your athletic cohort, feel that they are doing something right when they actually report this.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder please contact counseling services at (336) 278-7280 or go to