Managing an Eating Disorder at Uni – Experiences And Tips from an Undergraduate

Mental Health

I became a Uni Student whilst under the grips of an Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa.

I am still in recovery from this, every day is a challenge. But I’m determined to make positive changes towards reaching my goals towards health and happiness. 

I enlisted my Anorexia on my University application, alongside my Autism. I remained aware that I could face issues throughout my studies, and I feel comforted being able to share my story with my Tutors, and my friends – Who are surely, and gladly, becoming a second family to me.

Admittedly, I’ve faced my fair share of challenges and obstacles throughout my time at Uni. Managing an Eating Disorder and simultaneously trying to maintain recovery is hard work, possibly the toughest task I’ve had to endure.

I’ve fallen into new and destructive habits whilst trying to eliminate older ones. I often become engrossed heavily in my studies and fail to prioritise eating as much as receiving grade A’s. Anorexia is an incredibly sneaky, and conniving illness that will rear its head at any given opportunity. It’s important to be aware of this, and to prepare yourself for future setbacks/lapses.

Recovery is essentially a full time job, a choice that is constant, a process of rebuilding a healthy relationship with our bodies and our minds. It can be exhausting to balance this alongside our studies, and easy to fall under academic pressures. It can be difficult to maintain concentration whilst dealing with the constant, deliberating thoughts and anxieties surrounding food, numbers and body image.

But I’m currently awaiting enrolling for my third year, I’ve made it this far and I’m feeling motivated for September onwards. And I’m keen to share tips that have guided me through my time at uni so far.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Ever.

Speaking up is incredibly difficult, yet rewarding. It takes a considerate amount of courage to express your struggles. Be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself and make your mental health a priority.

Don’t feel embarrassed about reaching out for support. Whether that’s to a friend, a tutor, or a medical professional. It doesn’t make you a bad person, just a normal one. I confide in my Tutors always and I’ve been left incredibly humbled and inspired by the understanding and support I continue to receive. Shame isn’t an issue; the biggest focus needs to be on your mental and physical wellbeing. Confide in somebody you love and trust. Nobody deserves to suffer alone or in silence, and I’ve learned that a problem shared is typically a problem halved.

Access professional support. Attending appointments can sometimes mean missing lectures. And that’s fine, because work can be caught up on, our health shouldn’t be put on the line and lecturers are always incredibly understanding regarding mental health. Don’t be worried about confiding in your GP about your struggles. Often, we require therapy to allow us to tackle the root of the problem, and that’s perfectly okay. We can’t have it figured out all of the time. Uni’s also have Mental Health Services available to students with people trained to deal with a variety of problems who can be contacted should you feel the need to do so. Again, there is no shame in this. Just bravery.

Try to avoid falling into comparative habits. It’s often glamorised at uni for students to engage in unhealthy behaviours, such as frequently under/overeating, skipping meals and not getting enough sleep. It’s not cool or an essential component of student life. It’s vital that you focus on yourself and your own recovery journey. Remember that recovery from an Eating Disorder requires eating more, to assist physical and mental repairs. 

Be patient with yourself. Healing takes time, and recovery is never going to be a linear, overnight process. Try not to spend time getting caught up in your bad days, but remember that they can only make us stronger and more able to face tougher days in the future. Nobody is defined by their struggles, or difficult days. Don’t feel bad for saying “no” or for giving yourself time to collect your thoughts and feelings. We all need space, we all need rest and we all need time.

Get yourself a set of close friends to confide in, and to keep you grounded when times are tough. Share as much or as little information as you’re comfortable with. It’s easy to isolate ourselves and to get caught up in the chaos of our own minds, but our friends can keep us distracted by giving us a happier focus by spending time together, or by simply being there to temporarily act as a barrier between ourselves and our struggles. I’m privileged to be surrounded with the most incredible support network both at uni and at home. This makes reaching out for help and advice increasingly easier. Whilst our tutors are not medical professionals, they can issue lifestyle advice and can sympathise with our feelings. And sometimes, that’s more than enough.

Speak to those around you about your triggers. This is an essential, necessary component of taking care of yourself. We shouldn’t have to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions where we’re surrounded with information and situations that we find triggering. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re finding something triggering or hard to deal with. Ie: conversations about diet talk/weight loss, calories or any other areas. From experience, people will be glad that you’ve been able to confide in them about it and will try harder to avoid given topics and scenarios. 

Plan meals and snacks in advance. If you’re anything like me, you can easily “forget” to eat (due to a lack of hunger cues, planning or an inability to go against anorexia) and other things can begin to take priority. It’s important to remember that eating is as important as your studies and the grades you receive. Eating is always important and necessary. Look through your timetable during the weekend and plan meal and snack times. This will help to reduce the anxiety surrounding the situation and will ensure that you have a comfortable plan in place. If you’re in the stage of recovery where intuitive eating is encouraged, go for it! But only if you can trust yourself to eat a sufficient amount of food throughout the day.

Set reminders/alarms on your phone to encourage you to eat. Again, this may help to reduce the anxiety surrounding the situation and will ensure that you issue yourself with essential eating time, which is easy to miss out on with busy uni schedules, appointments, meet ups with friends and a social life. I find that time passes quickly when I’m in the library revising, so I plan rest/comfort breaks to get myself together.

Ensure that you have plenty of distractions in place. I imagine that you’ll be busy with meeting assignment deadlines and partaking in extra reading, but remember to give yourself down time too. It’s a staple we all require in our day to day lives, and it should involve engaging in an activity that distracts you and helps you happy and calm. This can be anything from reading, doing something creative (drawing, baking etc) writing or spending time with friends.

And lastly…

Embrace the journey. Trust in yourself and the process and believe that you’ll get to a place where you wish to be. You’ve got this!

5 thoughts on “Managing an Eating Disorder at Uni – Experiences And Tips from an Undergraduate

  1. Really helpful post. I’m going moving to Wales for Uni in September and it’s going to be the first time I’m going to be in charge of my own meals. I have a feeling I’m going to re read this a few times.

    Liked by 1 person

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