Food binges can lead to eating disorder

Hannah Misner

Those of us whose schedules do not allow time for meals at the dining hall but who have the Winger’s number memorized epitomize the eating patterns of college students today. The demanding workload and schedule of the typical college student makes life a frantic struggle for time management. Classes and homework tend to take priority over nutrition, and this results in skipped or quick, unhealthy meals. With schedules that change day-by-day and from semester to semester, it is extremely difficult for students to develop a healthy eating schedule and to choose healthy foods at these times.

This behavior is somewhat expected of college students, especially while adjusting during their first year, and can lead to the infamous “freshman 15.” However, the continuation of these patterns can lead to serious conditions and eating disorders, which are on the rise on college campuses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 10 percent of college-age women have a clinical or near-clinical eating disorder.

Binge eating is defined by WebMD as consuming “a large amount of food within two hours … being unable to control the amount of food consumed. You are unable to stop eating, even when you are full.” This eating disorder is prevalent at universities because skipping meals during the day greatly increases the chance of over-eating in the evening or at night. Every now and then, everyone indulges in extra dessert, eats more than they should have, or chooses pizza over salad. Certainly, this is no cause for alarm.

Binge eating that becomes a regular occurrence and is accompanied by depression and possibly self-induced vomiting is a signal that something is wrong. This is not just a concern for women. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, binge eating affects a substantial number of men, although it is still more common among women.

In most cases, binging does not get serious enough to be labeled a disease, but it is still one of the most common eating disorders. According to WebMD, approximately two percent of adults in the United States have been diagnosed. But even though an extremely low percentage of Villanova’s students are diagnosed with an eating disorder, improper eating patterns and behavior continue to be widespread. These behaviors have students on the path towards eating disorders that can consequently lead to malnutrition, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gallbladder disease, heart disease and cancer. In a psychological study posted by the CSA, researchers found that both males and females in the college student group reported a substantial frequency of eating an excessive amount of food.

Although depression and genetics are causes of binge eating disorder, the most common cause for college students is poor dieting, since it is so difficult to eat well on campus. Not only are dieting patterns thrown off-course when students make the move from home to college, but their options are drastically altered as well, and these sudden changes spawn unhealthy lifestyles that can lead to eating disorders. Some days are grueling, and sometimes students have no time to eat. Other days may be boring, and students eat out of boredom. Even when time permits adequate breaks for meals, sometimes the fruits and vegetables at the Pit are not especially fresh or aesthetically pleasing, and many instead opt for a burger and fries. The problem is not only when and why students eat, but what they eat.

Eating well has been proven to positively affect all aspects of life, and we have been told a million and one times that a “good, balanced diet” will improve our grades, attitude, energy level and life in general. This “good, balanced diet” is undoubtedly difficult to achieve in a college setting, when we come home nearly starving after a long day of classes, meetings and studying, and binge on whatever is on our shelf, which more times than not is junk food. When we run out of food, we just press our speed dial for Campus Corner and starve ourselves just a little longer until our food arrives. Then we end up eating so quickly that we do not know when we are really full until it hits us all at once. This binge eating could make anyone feel sick, less productive for the rest of the night and could even make it difficult to sleep.

On days that are just the opposite, boredom is a common reason for some people to eat, even when they are not hungry. This is also a form binge eating and can lead to serious health issues. The best ways to prevent binge eating disorders are to manage time efficiently, choose a healthy balance of foods when eating and be certain that eating is something you do only when you are hungry.

When you are eating in the dining hall, look for foods with the “Healthy Cat” label. All menus items marked with the Healthy Cat contain less than 30 percent of calories from fat. Also, keep your dorm stocked with healthy snacks such as carrot sticks and low-fat dip, baked chips and salsa, yogurt and granola bars. Villanova Dining Services is committed to providing healthy foods in the dining halls and has a full time nutritionist on staff to help ensure that Villanova’s menus accommodate students with special dietary needs and those who just prefer to eat healthy.

Check out Dining Services ‘Nova Nutrition website at to learn more from nutritionist Jessica Pellicciotta, RD, about healthy options offered by Dining Services.