Starting uni with an eating disorder

Which bedding is stylish yet practical? How many folders are acceptable? Is a photo wall still a thing, or is that lame now? How will I cope with eating….? Imagine approaching the start of your new life, full of nerves for the unknown, excitement for the unexpected and hope for the opportunities, all while undertaking the ginormous task of recovering from a mentally draining, physically exhausting illness. That’s what life is like for those of us who approach the first year of uni while attempting to recover from an eating disorder.

Now entering my fourth year of university, I can assure you that it is possible to maintain your recovery while juggling new friends, unfamiliar course content, and how to work a dodgy washing machine. If you’re really struggling, check out Student Minds for starting uni advice!

1) Be realistic

If you have been gaining weight or maintaining your weight steadily for a few months, don’t expect for this to remain the case straight away. Equally, don’t use uni as an excuse to lapse. A change in routine can play havoc with anyone’s weight, normally our weight can fluctuate anyway, and with increased stress levels, altered timetables and ever-changing daily activities, it’s completely normal for your body to be a bit confused to start off. So try to be patient and give yourself a bit of time to settle before you start jumping to conclusions.

2) Phone a friend

Before you go, make a list of a few people you can rely on to be there for you when you wobble. This might be friends or family – talk to them before you set off, explain what you’re most worried about and ask if you can call them when you feel yourself struggling. The chances are they’ll be honoured you thought of them and agree immediately, if not, at least you know who you can trust to be there for you next time.

3) Be honest

We all know that uni can be the chance to reinvent yourself, but that doesn’t mean forgetting yourself. Recovering from an eating disorder does involve you evolving and adapting, breaking free from behaviour that once bound you. But as much as you’d like to forget about your ED and what it brought with it, if you’re still in recovery, you’ll have to accept that it might not be possible – at least for now. Being honest doesn’t mean introducing yourself as “Beth the anorexic from 3B”, it just means being true to yourself, and if you feel brave enough, open with some other people too.

4) Prioritise

Uni can be overwhelming, from lectures to societies, to learning how to work the dodgy dryer in your halls, so the added stress of recovery can make things even trickier. It’s easy to get carried away when you first start out! Say yes to everything, including that LARP re-enactment you’re not sure how you got involved in…

However, things could swing the other way, with anxiety preventing you from joining in with activities you would really enjoy. This is why it’s important to regularly reflect on how you’re spending your time and whether that’s healthy for YOU because everyone is different. While some people can afford to skip dinner and go drinking instead, you might not be at that stage, and it’s not worth sabotaging your recovery. This is where being honest can help; it can allow other people to understand and help you find that balance.

5) Register with a GP

One of the most important steps is to make an appointment to see your local GP and give them the deets on your history and what you’re going to need from them, whether that be a prescription, referral for therapy, or just a regular check-in. Even if you don’t feel that you need their input straight away, you might at some point, and it’s always better to be proactive than reactive.

Recovery is possible. Good luck, and remember, you are NEVER alone.

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