Coping with an eating disorder as a student

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Health Assured team

03 January 2023

Eating disorders can be all-consuming. They can feel inescapable at times—taking away your peace and impacting different areas of your life.

You can experience an eating disorder at any age, gender, weight, or background. Eating disorders occur when you have a difficult relationship with food, and this starts to become a problem in your life.  

Eating Disorder Awareness Week will take place this year from the 27th of February to the 5th of March. So in honour of this important week, we’ve put together this article that will cover some of the signs to look out for if you think you have an eating disorder. We’ll also suggest self-help tools you can try to help you through this challenging time.

 

Am I suffering from an eating problem?

It’s important to note that for most people, food plays a big role in life; it’s normal to have cravings, lose your appetite, try to be healthier or eat more than usual. when these things take over, that’s when it might become a problem. The signs below could indicate that you have an eating problem:

  • Feelings of anxiety about eating
  • Thinking about food a lot of the time
  • Sticking to a set of rules around food
  • Comparing your body with others
  • Thinking a lot about the size and shape of your body
  • Eating in secret
  • A fear of eating in public
  • Feeling out of control when you eat
  • Checking and weighing your body often
  • Restricting what you eat

You might find that these problems affect other areas of your life too. This is because eating problems aren’t just about food. They can also be about difficult circumstances or painful feelings. When these feelings are hard to express or resolve, food can become a way to hide them. Alongside eating problems, you might also feel:

  • Often tired
  • Depressed and anxious
  • Like it’s hard to concentrate for long periods
  • Scared of family or friends finding out
  • You want to avoid socialising
  • Distant to those close to you
  • People don’t understand how complicated things are
  • Ashamed or guilty

You might not even feel like your experience qualifies as an eating disorder. Some people don’t seek help and hide their eating problems for a long time. But if your relationship with food affects your life, you can and should seek help.

 

How to manage and live with eating problems as a student

 Life as a student can be challenging if you’re struggling with eating problems. It might be difficult to open up about how you’re feeling with your friends and family, which can leave you feeling alone with your emotions. Juggling how you’re feeling with studying and socialising can also be hard. So we wanted to put together some tips to help you manage eating problems as a student.

 

Talk to someone you trust

Try to express your concerns with people you trust if possible. Getting these feelings off your chest can help you feel less overwhelmed about socialising. You can discuss how you’ll approach these situations, what you’ll do if it all gets too much and how you’ve been feeling recently.

If you don’t have someone you can open up to, try writing down how you feel. Expressing your emotions in this way allows you to take a step back and breathe. You can begin to process difficult feelings, relax your mind and body, and create a plan in case it gets too much in the future.

 

Find alternative ways to socialise

Food is often interwoven with many social events, and if you struggle with eating problems, this can make life difficult for students. But there

aren’t taking part, you might feel segregated, excluded and down about the whole season. But if you feel up to it, you can try and find alternative ways to celebrate, which may help to elevate your mood too. Here are some examples below:

  • Go for a walk with a friend
  • Do something creative together like painting, creating a website or pottery
  • Go to the cinema
  • Study together
  • Visit a museum

 

Be gentle with yourself

You might have a bad day, but every day won’t be a bad day. Acceptance of where you are can help. Try to acknowledge when you feel out of control and deal with this in a different way, such as looking after the things you can control, like how you spend your time and working towards positive goals that aren’t related to food.

 

Try self-help books

There are a range of different books available that have provided many people with a positive and assuring voice in times of need. UCL's great list of books covers different eating problems, with advice on how to cope with them. You might find that these books provide a point of view you’ve never considered before, or maybe it just helps to hear words from someone who can relate to what you’re going through.

 

Support is available

Remember that if you are struggling with an eating problem, support is always available. If it’s hard for people around you to understand how you feel, you might benefit from speaking to a counsellor outside of your circle. These conversations are always carried out confidentially, so you can open up without worrying about the effects this might have on others around you.

If you have a Student Assistance Programme with Health Assured, know that we are available 24/7 to talk—whenever and where ever you need us.

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