From Farm to Table – College campuses and veganism

College dining halls are now riddled with incessant choices of foods with specific markers on the food identifying vegetarian, vegan, kosher, gluten free, etc. As confusing as it is, these options also are the doorway to college students learning new and different ways of eating.

The following statistics highlight the body image disturbances that are all too prevalent in our youth today:

  • 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. Overweight girls are more likely than normal weight girls to engage in such extreme dieting (Boutelle, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, &Resnick, 2002; Neumark-Sztainer&Hannan, 2001; Wertheim et al., 2009).
  • Even among clearly non-overweight girls, over 1/3 report dieting (Wertheim et al., 2009).
  • Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).
  • The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 165 pounds. The average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs 121 pounds (Martin, 2010).
  • The average BMI of Miss America winners has decreased from around 22 in the 1920s to 16.9 in the 2000s. The World Health Organization classifies a normal BMI as falling between 18.5 and 24.9 (Martin, 2010).
  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Grodstein, Levine, Spencer, Colditz, & Stampfer, 1996; Neumark-Sztainer, Haines, Wall, & Eisenberg, 2007).
  • 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak, Crago, & Estes, 1995).
  • Of American, elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight (Martin, 2010).
  • The incidence of bulimia in 10-39 year old women TRIPLED between 1988 and 1993 (Hoek& van Hoeken, 2003).

College is a time of discovery and exploration of the self and one is easily influenced by what the peers are doing on campus.

Orthorexia is a common term used for when a person has developed an unhealthy obsession with eating “clean”. In the last 5 years since there has been a growing movement towards organic farming and clean eating coupled with rejecting the industrial production of food. With increasing headlines discussing the “Obesity Epidemic” and a college student’s fear of gaining the so called “Freshmen 15” it is easy for a college student to be exposed to the manipulation of the American diet and as he/she is becoming a critical thinker about these issues, a natural point of rebelling the system would be to become vegan.

Just as in the drug world we reference pot as the gateway drug, “veganism is the gateway to developing an eating disorder such as orthorexia. The college student innocently walks into this landmine of healthy eating. Dining halls are very user friendly to cultivating eating disorders since abundant supplies are made available and they will cater to the variety of palates.

The person who will be prone to developing this extreme form of eating, and for whom this can lead to a life threatening obsession will tend to be someone who is very perfectionistic and detail oriented. The perfectionism means that they will want to do it “extremely” well and this will fire off the gene.

With the 28 years of experience in the treatment of eating disorders orthorexia has become more prevalent in the last 5 to 7 years in our clinic. This time frame coincides with the farm to table movement that is growing in such popularity. Books such as Micheal Pollan’s  In Defense of Food are common reads among high school and college campuses. For a person who is highly influenced by societal trends this can then become a triggering event as can a variety of other community movements.

For those college students who have developed Orthtorexia it is critical that they see a Psychotherapist at their counseling center who specializes in eating disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They will need to relearn how to not be afraid of food and cultivate a balanced approach to “eating healthy.”

In general college campuses are HUGE breeding grounds for eating disorders. For us clinicians the contagion component of eating disorders is very apparent to us. Teaching the student how to not war on their body at a time of extreme stress and change is extremely gratifying for our center staff!