We are right in the midst of student season. As we type, people are moving away or establishing themselves in an odd, virtual student world that no one quite knows how to navigate.With new environments and new schedules, comes new routines. For those in recovery from an eating disorder, routines are really important as they help individuals feel safe and secure in day-to-day life by providing a degree of predictability and control (and thus providing headspace for important work in recovery).
Depending upon where you’re at in your recovery, you may have some worries around food and mealtimes as a student. Understandably, moving away from loved ones and an established support network may have an impact on how you will handle these things.
We know just how daunting and anxiety-provoking these experiences can be – and that finding true peace and acceptance can only come through a journey of ups and downs that can’t be “taught” through a blog post. However, knowing and owning our challenges is a huge step forward in recovery…and finding a new structure can actually illuminate new, important areas to work on in our recovery.
Here are 4 tips for handling mealtimes as a student
1) Plan ahead – and do so with the support of loved ones
As much as you probably don’t want to think about food and mealtimes, “to prepare is half the victory”. Take a moment to sit with a loved one and discuss your anxieties and what your triggers might be whilst at university. The more predictability you can create, the more secure you’ll feel in your choices and goals for recovery. Finding safe foods and meals – and learning how to cook and prepare them – will take some of the difficult decision-making out of the process and you can hold yourself accountable to your loved ones.
2) Take time to consider how to handle portions
Assessing hunger levels or knowing a “normal” portion size is often skewed when eating disorder thoughts take over. Take a moment to consider the best way to ensure your portions are right for you and your recovery: perhaps a loved one can help you, or you could receive guidance in advance from your therapist and/or Dietitian. The eating disorder may rear its ugly head when plating food, but know that this is merely an opportunity for victory over an illness that’s already taken far too much away from you. Stay strong.
3) Create a safe space for yourself and know that you can escape to it
If social meals sound overwhelming – that’s okay! Socialising can be overwhelming for people regardless of whether they’re suffering with an eating disorder or not. Take a moment to consider what and where your safe space is and know that you can return to for reflection and peace and quiet. Self-care is mighty important.
4) Know that you can say “no”
Often, aside from studying there can be a lot of socialising at university whilst we navigate who we are and find our space in the wider world.
Perhaps the thought of parties, social events and virtual meet-ups is overwhelming. If so, we ask that you forgive yourself for having these concerns and know that there are ways to take the pressure off.
What’s more, it is absolutely – nay, fundamentally – ok to say no! You do not need to attend all of the events your friends may do, especially if this makes you feel unhappy, uneasy or drained.
All of these actions are ways of ensuring you can keep your recovery the priority – it is not “needy” or “weak” to need time out. Remember, university is your experience to live and enjoy, so do so in your own way at your own pace.