In 2013, the ED charity BEAT surveyed 200 students and found that 53% had been diagnosed with an eating disorder before going to uni/were still suffering. So, first of all, I considered myself recovered when I started uni but I had spoken with a therapist who told me that change is often one of the hardest things for someone suffering from an ED. For me, letting go of my ED was letting go of the obsessively controlling part of myself. The part of myself that felt out of control if I wasn’t restricting my intake. This is why I think it is important for me to do a little blog post for you guys as I know many of you are either at uni or hope to start. This is advice from me based on my own experience so I understand it may not apply to you all exactly but I am simply speaking from experience
Firstly, it is very important to check out your uni’s wellbeing/mental health team ASAP. You need to make sure that you don’t slip through the cracks in a new place and the whole part of starting adult life is taking responsibility for your health. Book an appointment just to talk to someone and let them know what stage you are at with your ED. Often if they think there is a real problem and you are struggling they will communicate with your doctor for you. I do find that extremely helpful as it takes a weight off your shoulders. Also, take the chance to call the Samaritans if you feel you are not coping. They are genuinely one of the best charities out there when it comes to mental health and they are there available 24/7.
Now, when I got to uni I was in catered halls, meaning I had meals cooked for me. This was helpful for me personally because it meant I didn’t have to really think about food at all. I could turn up to a place, choose food, eat it and then carry on with my day. Meals were also at the same time every day so I had a routine, which was very important for me. Remember I am talking about my life post recovery therefore, if you are still recovering I understand that other people making your food could be tough for you. The reason I recommend catered halls is because starting adult life is tough. Most of you will not have cooked for yourselves, you may not be used to how long food lasts or how much it costs. It is very easy to stop eating properly in self-catered halls. Halls can often also be extremely unclean. I lived in self-catered halls for a month or so before moving, and I found that the way the kitchen was left made me less inclined to make food.
Do not get wasted constantly. I actually went tee total in my second year of uni because of how badly it affected me. We all know how badly alcohol affects our bodies, but if you are trying to stay in a healthy after an eating disorder, it is vital that you do not binge drink excessively. I know that drinking affects us all differently, but especially if you are mid-recovery you need to make sure you don’t drink too much and you are not drinking on an empty stomach. Here in the UK we live in a booze dominant social culture but you you have to accept that your body may be different to the people around you mid/post-recovery.
You don’t have to be social every day all day. I know that at uni there is always something going on, but often intense business can mean your food intake suffers. It is also very tough because ED’s are often coupled with anxiety/depression and that can mean the amount of social events can become overwhelming. Let yourself have time alone to regroup and never feel badly about it. Part of growing up is often deciding to do things for yourself and not letting yourself feel pressured. I was always a bit of a stubborn person so it wasn’t always too hard for me to say no.
Most of all, create a support system for yourself. You may come from a supportive environment of family and friends who understand your condition, and it may be tough to leave that. Confide in those around you, that is after all, how friendships are made. The people you meet at uni could be your friends for life. I now openly talk about how I used to have an eating disorder and that means my partner and friends will always know if things become tough for me. Communication is vital. You do not have to be ashamed of what you are going/went through. Uni is supposed to be the best time of your life and you should not let it be marred by your ED.
Stay safe, be happy.