It’s the end of my first semester at university and I thought it would be time to share some thoughts on this topic. What I can say so far: going to university is exciting! You decide what you are truly interested in and what to spend your time on. You give your life a direction. Finally, you grow up. But starting university also brings along a lot of new situations that can be hard to handle at first – especially for somebody with an eating disorder. In this post I would like to point out some of these challenges and give you some tips on how to cope.
„Bye, Mum! Bye, Dad!“ – moving out Most students move out when they start their studies. In a new town, their first own or shared appartment. RIght now, I live on my own and I can tell you: one of the most exciting moments as a college student so far was when I opened the door to my flat with my own key for the first time. I could do whatever I want within my own walls – singing out loud, cause nobody was listening, walking around naked, leaving a mess everywhere I go. Of course, there are also annoying things coming up – washing, organizing finances etc. Living on my own also meant to cook by myself and to do food shopping regularly. To be honest, I struggled quite a lot in the beginning. My hand was shaking when I firstly put oil in the pan to make scrambled eggs for breakfast. I sometimes stood ten minutes in front of the shelf in the supermarket before I decided to take the fullfat yogurt instead of the 0% fat one. Just never quit or give Ana the control over your actions! Write lists on what kind of food you want to buy and stick to them. And, if the pressure gets to high and you simply can’t cook: buy yourself a meal from a take away restaurant. I promise you: the more often you repeat it, the faster it will become a habit and the easier it will get!
„Cheers!“ – partying and drinking I didn’t count how many beers I drank during my first week at university, but believe me: I had a lot. And also believe me: I didn’t feel really good about it. It was nice to get a little tipsy to be honest. And I actually got drunk really easily, because I was still underweight. The worst was the bad conscience, because of all the „liquid calories“ I consumed. So what advice can I give you, when it comes to alcohol? Probably not to stress too much about it. Don’t miss out on all the parties and events going on for freshmen, just because you are afraid of the drinking. If you don’t want to drink, the people around you should accept it and if they don’t, they aren’t the right people to hang out with. Besides the drinking, night time eating can be a huge challenge. Before going to a club, we sometimes ordered a midnight pizza or shared some crisps, cause with an empty stomach noone can dance and enjoy his night properly.
From 8a.m. to 8p.m. – change of daily rhythm At university you mostly don’t have a clear weekly structure as in school. You will have to self-organize yourself and set a schedule. There are days when I have courses and lectures from 8a.m. to 8p.m. and others when I work from home. Adapting to a new daily rhythm can be hard in the beginning, especially as it also means a change of eating habits. Most universities have a cafeteria and -yes- I know how scary it is to eat the unmeasured food of which you don’t know the incredients and calories. But it’s a challenge worth taking, because the lunch break is one of the rare times you will actually have time to talk to others. I personally found that sitting together and chatting would calm down my anxiety. A possible alternative is to pack your lunch, but it takes extra time in the morning and for some Anorexics it can be an even bigger challenge. Speaking of time: university life in general is stressful! I often had to decide whether to eat in a hurry between lectures or skip a meal. But I always tell myself that in order to reach my goal – having a great life as an university student – I sometimes have to make compromises when it comes to food.
Coffee and chocolate – exam pressure When the first exams came up, I was really stressed. I had no appetite at all and I wasn’t the only one. I heard from others, that only ate chocolate and coffee during that time, because they were so nervous and had no time to cook. I suddenly didn’t have the time anymore to think about my eating disorder 24/7 as I was concerned with studying. On the other hand, I was often not able to concentrate at all. So I had to face it: the only solution is to eat. Regularly. Enough. No matter what. It is not only be beneficial for your body and general health, but also for your final marks in the exams! Eat healthy fats, even if they scare you. For me, nuts worked really well, as you can easily snack on them while studying, but a little chocolate from time to time also won’t hurt you!
Do you want to have dinner with us? – meeting new people What most people remember about their time at university are not their actual studies, but the people they used to hang out with. The roadtrips with friends. The drinking games. The cute maths student fell in love. As you’re probably far away from home, making new contacts can be hard. Especially people with Anorexia are often shy and tend to isolate themselves, All I can do is to encourage you to be outgoing. You’re not the only one that’s new and wants to make new friends. Get involved in an initiative you’re interested in. Book a yoga course. Accept dinner and party invitations. And if the pressure gets to high (for example when cooking together): talk about your eating disorder. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it will probably be a relief once you spoke out about it.
So, all in all, being a college student means to act responsably for yourself. There’s nobody who controls if you’re having lunch or not. To put it in a nutshell: if you are not able to recover for yourself, you won’t recover at all! It’s your life and it happens right now. You have the power to create it. You have the choice to stay in your boring comfort zone or to go out. To experience new things. To get engaged. Whatever you do: don’t let Ana ruin the probably best time of your life!