Our Dietitian’s tips for recovering at university

Moving to university can be a challenging time because it’s full of change and new experiences.
People in recovery for an eating disorder can search for certainty in routines around food, body weight and body shape, and this can feel especially amplified during uncertain or transitional chapters.

Adapting to new routines can help you to feel safe and secure in day-to-day life by providing a degree of predictability and control.

Part of adpating to new routines involves knowing and owning our challenges – which is a huge step forward in recovery. What’s more, a new structure can illuminate new, important areas to work on.

We asked Paula, Senior Dietitian at Orri, for her recommendations for keeping your recovery on track whilst making the transition to university.

How can we adjust to a new routine whilst keeping a sense of certainty?

My first piece of advice is to plan.

Drawing up meal plans in advance enables you to keep it simple, quick and easy to prepare, so you can avoid planning to cook things which have a long list of ingredients.

Whilst you may not necessarily want to think about food and mealtimes, 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.

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.

Assessing hunger levels or knowing a “normal” portion size is often skewed when eating disorder thoughts take over. The eating disorder may rear its 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.

What are your tips for going food shopping in a new place?

Research local shops as soon as you arrive, or even before you go. You can see what shops are close to you, what food is available and find the best deals. It is also worth looking into what shops do grocery deliveries but remember to book these well in advance.

In these uncertain times, it is important to make sure you have enough food to last at least a week.

If you’re worried about food shopping in a new place, don’t worry. As you get to know your new surroundings, things will become clear, and you will be able to develop a routine.

But it may be worth taking a box of basic food supplies with you when you leave home, so it will be one less thing to worry about.

How can you make sure you are shopping smart?

When you plan your shopping list, fold a piece of paper into four and label each section – Protein, Carbohydrates, Fruit and Veg, and Dairy. If you make sure that there is something in each section, you won’t return home from the shops with a bag full of shopping and nothing for dinner!

There can be fifth section for household essentials, but you will probably remember these without having to write them down.

How do you ensure that you keep yourself a priority whilst settling in?

My biggest tip would be to save time for yourself. Remember, it is okay to say no.

If the thought of socialising or going out for meals feels overwhelming, that’s okay. Take a moment to craft an ‘escape plan’ and consider what and where your safe space is, and know that you can return to it for reflection and grounding.

You may meet people who skip breakfast or miss lunch, but will this be a good idea for you? Stick to routines you know are critical for your recovery.

Breakfast is an important meal of the day. Likewise, dehydration can cause confusion and impair brain function – which is not helpful at university. So, try to get into the routine of drinking a glass of water with each of your meals, snacks and two extra glasses on top of this. A rough guide to how much water you need is 1.5 to 2 litres per day (which is equivalent to six to eight full glasses or mugs, depending on size).

Things can get busy at university, so ensure you’re putting time aside for shopping, meal prep and eating. One activity that you may find useful is journaling. This provides a valuable opportunity to pause and reflect.

Keep reminding yourself of where you want to be so that every day you wake up you know why you’re choosing recovery. You’ve got this.

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