Living away from home with an eating disorder

Submitted by Belinda from Talk ED

As the summer draws to a close and the academic year begins to become ever more present in our awareness, thinking about returning to university or going for the first time might seem overwhelming with or without an eating disorder. In this post, we aim to address some of the challenges faced by being in charge of feeding yourself when you’re away from home, as well as some useful strategies towards being independent with food whilst looking after yourself. 

Buying food
Supermarket shopping has the potential to spark anxiety, fear and distress. Read our tips for reducing stress around food shopping, and improving the chances of it being a successful trip.

Planning ahead can really help. Make sure you know where the nearest food outlets are and how you will get there and back. You might want to consider if it’s possible to team up with others and do bigger shops at particular times in the week. Is there somewhere local for top-up foods, in case you run out of something and don’t have time to do a supermarket shop? It might also be worth considering sharing a delivery from a supermarket with others in your flat/house-share. Online ordering can reduce overwhelm and help you to focus on your list and not become distracted by food aisles and food labels.

Having food in stock
Everyone’s experience of an eating disorder can be different. For some, having plenty of food available can be beneficial to recovery and for others, it can be triggering. Try to ask yourself how many days worth of food to have in stock is ideal for you. Make sure that you always have a safe ready-meal available, in case you need to make a meal quickly and with little effort. Also make sure that you always have in stock the ingredients of a safe and healthy meal that you enjoy. Having some snacks available too can be really helpful if you need to replenish yourself on the go. Think about all of this when you’re making your shopping lists. On the rare occasion you need to borrow food from someone and they are not there to ask, don’t forget to leave a note – this can save a lot of stress later.

Eating with others
If eating in front of others doesn’t cause you increased anxiety, try to eat meals with house-mates, course-mates or friends. As well as being an opportunity to spend time with the people around you, eating with others can be calming, reassuring and a helpful distraction.

Replenishing yourself
Remember that being at university requires a lot of energy – mentally, emotionally and physically. We need to nourish ourselves with enough food daily, so that we can generate enough energy to keep up with the demands of studying, being around people, making important decisions and doing what we need to do every day. Restricting food can increase stress, lead to burn out and can also create hunger imbalances which can create further stress and distress in the future. 

Replenishing yourself with down-time and rest is also essential, especially if you begin to feel overwhelmed by your schedule or any activities that you’ve undertaken.

Access support
It’s important that you identify the support services available to you as a student before you’re in a situation where you need them quickly. Make sure you register with the local GP as soon as possible, as well as knowing how to access mental health support, as well as academic support. 

It’s more than likely that some, even many, of the people around you will have had some experience with eating disorders or other mental health issues themselves. If you think someone would be receptive to you sharing your struggles, try to open up with them. The understanding and support of others may surprise you, and may help to form strong friendships that will nurture your recovery and your life at university.

Lastly, remember to go easy on yourself. Being in charge of feeding yourself at university is a challenge for everyone, even without an eating disorder, so expect to find it challenging at times. You can figure it out, and people are there to help; either your own support network, your university support services, or our team at Talk ED.

If you are about to start return to university and you’re experiencing an eating disorder or eating distress, or you’re worried about someone who is at university, talk to us. We have a range of support services to help.

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