Continuing the conversation

Jane Doe reminds students to prioritise their mental and physical health

Last term The Boar published the article ‘Living with Anorexia’ which addressed eating disorders and their place as a coping mechanism in the transition from home to university. This made me consider the changes I’ve developed in my eating patterns in the year-and-a-term I’ve spent at Warwick and the impact on my general wellbeing and happiness. The original article hits home in that the combined stress and freedom of being independent led me down the never-ending rabbit
hole of eating problems.

This self destructive entity acts as a snare; so easy to get caught and near impossible to escape. Before university I had never had eating difficulties. I had experienced the weight-anxiety that many adolescents do, but within the normal spectrum. I had never been over or under weight. However at university I soon spiralled out of control and binge eating swiftly led to bulimia. At first, and if I’m completely honest, even now, I was reluctant to classify my eating patterns as a ‘disorder’. I felt that I didn’t fit the stereotypes the media feeds us that those with eating disorders must be next-to skeletal to be considered anorexic or bulimic.

I believed I was fat and therefore felt classifying my eating patterns would cause disbelief and be categorised as ‘attention-seeking behavior’. For this reason, I also found it difficult to tell those closest to me what I was experiencing – though I soon found that the more people I told the easier it became. However, it worried me how many of those I told were going through or had gone through experiences similar to mine. We all know that eating disorders in teenage girls is not uncommon, but having left school I presumed we were over the summit and certainly did not expect to find so many friends bearing the same burden as me. The volume itself highlighted that there is not enough being done to address and raise awareness about eating disorders at university.

Like me, most of my friends’ eating problems had begun after they left home. Whether this was in reaction to the seemingly inevitable weight the fun of Freshers brings with it or due to the loss of security that comes with independence, I
cannot say. However, I think we as a university need to raise awareness of the mental and physical impact of eating disorders and offer alternative coping mechanisms for the changes and emotional confusion the transition to university can incur.

Perhaps talking to someone when I first began feeling this way could have led me down an entirely different path. Apart from eating being closely tied to emotional triggers such as stress, sadness and loneliness, the pressure we all feel at university to strive for perfection in our academia can be unwittingly translated to other aspects of our lives. For me, I know how I wanted to look and feel at the age of 20 and having not achieved this possibly unattainable perfection I feel I have failed.

To those of you reading this who empathise with the issues raised in this article, my only advice would be to seek support. There are more people than you think going through exactly the same thing as you and eating disorders do not just ‘disappear’ – your mind and its attitude to food needs to be reprogrammed in order to get better. Together, we need to raise awareness about the dangers of using food as a coping mechanism at university and also to talk more about our physical and mentalwellbeing as individuals living in an unfamiliar environment for the first time. It’s taken me longer than a year to seek professional help and as of January I will be starting Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The university’s counselling service will be supporting me and hopefully 2014 will bring me a healthier mind and body.

Where you can seek support:

Beat: Provides online support, helplines and information about selfhelp groups for those facing eating disorders.
Coventry Eating Disorder Service: Requires a referral from a GP, consultant or other health professional. A service focused on therapy and outpatient treatment, but inpatient treatment is offered as well if necessary.
Nightline:  A confidential peer-run service that students can use during the evenings for support. They can be reached on 02476 417 668 or you can drop into their building near the Rootes launderette between 9pm and 9am.
The University Counselling serviceA professional therapeutic counselling service available to students at the university. There is a waiting list for this service, so register as soon as you feel you may need counselling to avoid a long wait.
SEEDA charity that offers a hotline for those facing eating disorders. They seek out helpful information and literature and pass on the details to their clients. All services are self referral, and they offer group therapy sessions as well. Their hotline can be reached at 01482 718130.


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