Eating Disorders at University
It is so easy to hide your eating disorder at university. You are completely independent and free. No one is there to notice your eating patterns, because no one really knows you. Your mum isn't there to put your dinner on the table for you. You are in control. It's the perfect setting for an eating disorder.
I am proud to say that I feel confident enough to look after myself at university. I want to be healthy and happy. I want to be recovered. But I am all too aware of how vulnerable you might feel and how tempted you might be to form an ED.
I came to university 'recovered', but I'm not going to sugar coat it to you. I know I could switch back to old ways in a flash if I wanted to. But I don't. If I were to skip dinner, no one would know because everyone cooks at different times or I could easily lie and say that I've already eaten. At home if I wanted to skip dinner I'd wash up a plate when I knew my parents were looking to make it look as though I had eaten. But that isn't necessary at university. I'm not scared to admit that I've skipped dinner a few times before a night out because I wanted to look nice. I hate that I've done it, but I'm aware of it. And that's the most important thing.
As I grew older, people assumed what I would eat and what I wouldn't. My nan stopped offering me dessert because she already knew the answer. Everyone just thought I was 'healthy'. I felt like I had to keep up appearances to maintain that role. That sort of carried on to university. Overall I eat nutritious food and rarely turn to processed foods, simply because it makes me feel good inside and helps me perform at my best. I'll be cooking in the kitchen and people will say 'you always eat so healthy', sometimes it sounds like an insult and sometimes it sounds admirable. My point is, it's easy to get caught up in playing a certain role and it sort of becomes a routine. You might like that role because it makes you feel powerful.
Your body can be the envy of the party and you'll still scrutinise every inch of your skin. But, you can be healthy and exercise while eating pizza and burgers. You can eat what you want even though you've been to the gym that day. Listen to your body and give it wants and needs. Love yourself and don't be afraid to break out of roles and trends. Live for you and do you, rather than the people around you and what they believe is healthy.
I still suffer with guilt sometimes. I'll have to think myself into eating something because I'll think 'should you be eating this?' or 'I shouldn't have eaten that' even though I really wanted to. Yes, I still care about the appearance of my body. I can deal with those negative thoughts now, but they're still there. I fight them. You need to be strong and allow yourself the freedom to eat. Don't feel guilty for giving your body what it needs and for letting yourself make those decisions! It will become second nature to question that guilt.
I didn't personally experience anorexia as a way to deal with stress, but I know that a lot of people do deal with stress by feeling in control of their body. Deadlines and exams are obviously a fundamental part of university and you should be feeling your absolute best when this time comes. You need to give your brain the nutrients and energy that it needs to concentrate and work hard! I couldn't possibly sit through a lecture and concentrate if all I could think about was how hungry I was! If you are worried about your eating habits effecting your health then find support from student services or from people close to you!
Going out drinking is traditionally a major part of university. I really struggle with this aspect. I don't like the feeling of damaging my body and not feeling good in myself. I think that's a result of my eating disorder and it stops me from socialising sometimes. I fear drinking a lot and then feeling horrid afterwards; I've already put my body through so much so why would I want to carry on? and people find this hard to understand.
You are completely in control of your health and your behaviour. No one else is going to seek help for you. No one is going to regularly check that you're eating. No one is there to pick up the warning signs. I beg you, if you feel like you are forming unhealthy patterns then seek help. It is not a weakness to admit that you need support. I know it's hard, because I didn't want to start eating more, I didn't want to put on weight. I didn't want to face facts. Although I was hurting both mentally and physically, nothing felt better than being skinny to me at that point. But as I am recovered, I can tell you that I feel AMAZING and you will blossom once you have taken care of yourself and regained your happiness.
It's difficult to put into words how anorexia felt. But I'll try... Anorexia took the little things away from me that built up and took away my life. I found happiness in certain things; I could enjoy my day and feel loved and laugh with my friends like I do now. But something was missing, and that was my soul. Those memories of school and my family are tainted by my hatred of my body and my refusal to eat. I can think of so many wonderful moments with my family at Christmas time that I look back on and feel so much regret because I wasn't living. It consumed my entire being and I didn't care about anything else!
I absolutely dreaded events that required eating. One Christmas, we went to a gorgeous restaurant in Covent Garden with my whole family, and they still talk about the food and that day, but I can't relate even though I was physically there. I was constantly thinking about my weight and what I could do to lose it. My mind would always be elsewhere than the moment I was living in. I couldn't go out with my friends if it ruined my exercise routine - I had to do a certain amount each day and I would cancel plans or refuse to go out if I hadn't achieved that already. I would check the calorie content in everything and account for everything. I would research on the internet about how to get skinny. The sad thing is, I honestly and truly thought that I was being healthy and that this was a normal way to live.
It is such a strange illness because I remember feeling horrible. My body would ache. I would feel drained and limp. I couldn't concentrate. I was cold. I was moody. I was obsessive. My hair would fall out. I was hungry. I felt so many horrible things but I carried on because it was an addictive feeling. All I craved was that 'empty' feeling. Like I had nothing in my body. Like I was air.
Aspects of what I went through remain a piece of me. Sometimes I find myself doing / thinking past things without even realising. I will always remember the habits and the routines that I made. I could still tell you the calorie intake in my dinner today, years later. But I never want to feel that way again. And I can't think of anything worse than experiencing and coping alone at University. Don't let it consume you. Don't let it become a part of you. Don't let it take your soul.
"I am not what happened to me. I am what I chose to become"