For many young adults, periods of transition and the stress that it may bring can trigger unhealthy coping skills and the onset of an eating disorder. In fact, many adolescents and teens develop an eating disorder as they begin high school or college. Social pressures, exams and looming life decisions can create emotions and levels of stress that many have not previously experienced in their life. Additionally, the new realities of living life and the changes at school during the pandemic have created more anxiety regarding everyday activities.

Eating disorders typically develop when the need to feel control over a stressful environment is channeled through food restriction or indulgence, over-exercise, and an unhealthy focus on body weight. “The stress of a a new schedule, managing new social situations, and dealing with independent living in college can trigger anxiety or, in some cases a new mental illness,” explains Dr. Douglas Bunnell, clinical director at a treatment center in New York. “If you have a heavy dose of anxiety and you’re in a social environment, and you’re constantly exposed to the thin body ideal, that’s a perfect storm of factors that can drive a vulnerable individual into an eating disorder.”

In fact, many eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). The association estimates that between 10 and 20% of women and 4 to 10% of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, and rates are on the rise.