The Stress of a Whole New Chapter of LifeIf going to college is scary, imagine coming in with an eating disorder. There's food everywhere on college campuses. At any given hour you can find something cheesy, sweet, or crunchy to munch on, even if it's just from a vending machine. Although universities are working on providing healthier choices, the availability of junk food still drastically outweighs that of nutritious meals and snacks. It'll be a cold day in hell when cruditÃ©s replace pizza as the number one college survival food.
As someone who entered college with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), I found that embarking on a whole new chapter of my life was just the thing to drive my emotional self to chocolate bars and cookie dough ice cream late at night.
Eating in Response to PressureThe height of my binge eating occurred my freshman year and the summer following it. A busy schedule and working out at least six times a week kept me from gaining the dreaded "Freshman 15." I did, however, gain enough weight for both me and my parents to notice, along with some poor self-esteem to go with it.
Overwhelmed by a number of things including difficult classes, adjusting to a roommate, clubs and extracurricular activities, and dating a guy who would soon become my first real boyfriend, I succumbed to the pressure and ate my way through both semesters.
Hiding the EvidenceI binged on everything, from food I enjoyed like pizza and donuts to tasteless saltine crackers and protein bars. I even stole food from my roommate when she wasn't in the room; I anxiously chomped down granola bar after granola bar or pretzel after pretzel, stuffing the wrappers in my desk drawer to hide the evidence.
I would feel fat, ugly, and guilty after these binges.
Too humiliated and too sick to my stomach to leave my room, I stayed in bed for hours, either crying or doing homework. Dance practice and my extremely supportive boyfriend kept me from hibernating all year.
The Dangers of Summer VacationDuring my second semester, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer (which, thankfully, she has overcome) and a few months later my boyfriend and I broke up. After a roller coaster year, I came home for summer vacation expecting relief but only felt worse.
Gone was my daily college schedule. Instead, I lounged around 24/7 with nothing to do. My only comfort was food. At school I had to sneak around to binge, but at home it was too easy; once my parents were asleep, I opened the fridge, grabbed pasta, bagels, and cake, took it up to my room, and had a feast without feeling like someone would burst through the door at any minute and judge me. The only one there to judge me was myself -- which I found out is ultimately worse.
Knowing What to ExpectNearly two years later, I know what to expect when it comes to food at college; I know what I like to eat there, where to find something healthy, and what will trigger a binge if I eat it. I binge only if I'm stressed to the point of my head coming close to exploding -- which doesn't happen too often.
The problem I'm working on now is how to deal with BED at home. Something about being at home -- perhaps the comfort of childhood memories combined with the anxiety of trying to avoid tension with my family -- often sets off a binge. Fortunately as I work on my relationship with my parents, keep myself busy, and apply strategies that I've learned over the years to prevent binges, my at-home eating sprees are becoming less frequent.
Advice for the College-Bound StudentMy 10 best pieces of advice for anyone entering college, eating disorder or not:
- Get out of your room as much as possible. Find opportunities that keep you occupied and involved in something other than eating.
- Since many social gatherings revolve around food, remember to enjoy yourself by choosing something delicious while watching your portions.
- Peer pressure can lead to overeating, so resist the urge. Just because other people are gulping down enough to feed a family of four, don't think, "Hey, if they're doing it, why can't I?" Not to sound mom-ish, but if everyone was jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?
- Make college about the people you meet and the activities you partake in. The food just goes along with that -- it should not be the focus.
- If you're overwhelmed by stress, do what I wish I'd done. Go for more walks, hang out with friends and think about ways to lessen your stress in a healthy way.
- If you get frazzled while you study or do homework, pack up some healthy snacks and head over to the library. Doing work in your dorm room makes it way too easy to order in greasy Chinese food and down a bag of Skittles while tackling that history paper.
- When going home for weekends, holidays, and vacations, keep your eating patterns as close as you can to those you've established at school. Make sure meals and snacks are around the same size and try to have them at approximately the same time every day to maintain energy, keep your stomach satisfied, and encourage good habits
- If possible, plan some nutritious, tasty meals in advance with your parents or whoever you are living with.
- And whether you're a binge eater or just trying to get healthier and fit, write down what you eat; it's a proven and effective way to stay accountable for what you put in your system.
- It's important to note that (while this comes as no surprise to many) in college you will be surrounded by people who drink. Though not everyone chooses to drink, it's a fact of college life that both legal and underage drinking occurs. If you are a binge eater, recognize that you may be prone to addictive behaviors in general. If you do make the choice to drink in college, DO NOT let it become your only source of fun. Relying on alcohol to have a good time is setting you up for an even bigger disaster than relying on food for comfort.