Campus-LIfe1  There’s been quite a bit of literature written lately about how university and college campuses are a breeding ground for eating disorders; how university and college life and pressures have proven to be contributing factors in many cases of eating disorder development.  Is it any real surprise, what with all that talk of “the Freshman 15”, the significant lifestyle changes students often experience in college or university, the pressure to achieve and even compete for formidable academic success, and the increased sense of independence? 

university Not really.  Those of us who entered post-secondary education having already identified ourselves as anorexics, bulimics, compulsive eaters, etc were especially aware of these environmental hazards.  We almost immediately experienced a heightened awareness of our triggers and subsequent compulsions, our bodies and minds like acute barometers of stress and anxiety.  College and university are clearly challenging for the best of us – but for those of us with eating disorders, the pressures can seem positively overwhelming, posing serious threats to our health and stability.  With a little support and organization, however, we can survive the experience.  Here are some tips for pulling through freshman year, even with an eating disorder as a roommate:

  • Leave the scale at home.  Or even better, at the doctor’s office.  With our tendency to obsess over weight, it’s all too easy to become seduced by the scale when the pressure’s on.  Too easily do our homework and study disciplines give way to restless ruminations over irrelevant numbers and measurements.  Let a doctor or another trusted individual monitor your weight, and trust him or her to tell you if there’s a problem


  • Tell a trusted few.  At the start of freshman year, everyone wants to be (or acts like they are) friends with everyone else – but speechbubblethis doesn’t mean personal life should be made public.  On the other hand, it helps to get honest with a few trustworthy people.  It’s much easier to get vulnerable early on and tell the truth than to try and hide your struggles all year, especially when it comes to roommates who might otherwise engage in conversation and activities that you find triggering.  You may be surprised by how such deep honesty begets further honesty, even in the newest of relationships.


  • Seek out support.  Find the help you need, whether it be a dietician, therapist, counselor, support group, psychiatrist, sponsor, or telephone hotline – and use it often, even when things are going well.  Visit the campus health centre and make use of what they offer.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and get what you need – if it’s expensive, seek out the aid that most campuses offer for such situations; if it’s time-consuming or time-restrictive, do your best to work your schedule around those vital appointments.  Remember that your health is the top priority.


  • Let go of perfectionism.  Speaking of top priorities, scoring 100% Gradsevery  time can’t be one of them.  So many of us set such high standards for ourselves, usually because under normal circumstances, we can achieve them and more.  But between the enormous changes that university or college bring, and the immense challenge of coping with an eating disorder, something’s gotta give – and given the choice between well-being and “perfect” performance, there can be only one sustainable answer.


  • Make it social.  Eating disorders thrive on isolation and shame.  We act on our compulsions when we’re alone because we’re ashamed of ourselves, or we don’t want others intruding on our rituals.  So get out of the dark and into the safety of trusted company.  Include friends in your routine: plan meals with friends (whether they know about your eating disorder or not), join a class or a sports team for a bit of safe recreation, study with company or in a public place when possible.  Students do these things all the time as a great way to meet new people, and we need the companionship just as much (if not more).


  • Plan ahead.  Choosing what to eat, when to eat it, and how is much easier when it’s determined in advance.  (Some of us also find ourselves less prone to the guilty feelings or shame that can follow a meal if we’ve committed to a mealplan ahead of time)  With the help of a dietician or another guide wherever necessary, create a plan for the week that works for you and meets your needs (maybe dinner is the only meal that’s difficult, maybe it’s lunch, maybe every meal needs structure) and stick to it.  It’s not as hard as you think to plan meals on a student’s budget.  You can even include roommates in the process, if you share cooking responsibilities.  Shop accordingly at the beginning of the week, making use of the bulk section and seasonal produce.  It gets easier with practice.


  • meditateRest and relax.  Get lots of sleep, because everything (especially coping  with an eating disorder) is harder when you’re tired.  Make time for leisure and self-care, and respect it.  Maybe even make it a social commitment – a bi-weekly game of Risk, an assembly around each new episode of a favourite TV show, a book club, coffee dates, etc.  Give yourself a chance to unwind and recharge, because recovery alone is exhausting!


  • Get out there.  Try new things, take advantage of student services and opportunities, explore campus amenities, join clubs and teams, enjoy student life.  Too often we’re bogged down by our schoolwork and pulled into the endless cycle of our disordered thinking.  Freshman year shouldn’t just be about grinding though “higher learning” or maintaining a strict regimen.  Get out of your head and into life!