With the stress of school, work and a social life, our well-being can often be placed on the back burner. As a consequence, one of the first things we tend to forget about is our nutrition. It’s so easy to put off eating in favor of a class, homework or going out with friends. But it’s important to make the distinction between simply being forgetful and a larger issue at hand.
Disordered eating is defined as a preoccupation with food and body image, and it’s fairly common in college settings. It often presents itself as frequently dieting or engaging in excessive exercise. On such a large campus, it almost becomes natural to compare yourself to your peers. If you are new to the University of Connecticut, this might even be the first time you’ve found yourself surrounded by such a large population of students. If you frequent the Rec Center, the aspect of comparison can become an even bigger issue.
To combat disordered eating, make sure you’re getting three square meals a day, plus a few snacks in between if you still find yourself hungry. Something that helps me is to keep a snack in my school bag, such as a granola bar or a piece of fruit. It’s also important to not overdo it with exercise at the gym. Work out because it makes you feel good – not to look or be a certain way.
I am no stranger to the pitfalls of disordered eating in college. When I came to UConn, I developed the infamous “freshman 15.” It caused me to fall into the trap of disordered eating because I wasn’t happy with how I looked. This then evolved into something that all too many college students grapple with: an eating disorder.
At first, I brushed off my issues around food. I attributed it to simply wanting to “be healthier.” I started going on diets and working out more often than I was my freshman year. This quickly turned into a full-fledged eating disorder. I had experienced struggles with body image and food since my early teens, but always kept it somewhat hidden from my loved ones. When I gained weight my freshman year, it awoke the same issues again.
It’s important to learn the distinction between disordered eating and an eating disorder when discussing these topics. In my experience, my semi-casual diets and workouts developed into a fear of food. I was obsessed with my weight, and knowing the number at all times. It snuck up on me quickly. Soon, I was weighing myself multiple times a day. I could barely go to class or hang out with friends for the fear of others looking at me. I started engaging in more dangerous eating disorder behaviors. My life became unmanageable. I was totally centered around food and my body. I was miserable.
When we think of eating disorders, we often picture what the media shows us: emaciated, young, white women. But that’s not the reality.
“It’s important to learn the distinction between disordered eating and an eating disorder when discussing these topics.”Abigail Bonilla
Eating disorders happen to people of all ages, all sizes, all races and all genders. In fact, it’s reported that less than 6% of people who have an eating disorder are medically underweight. This means that the majority of people with an eating disorder actually present as the “average” weight. I’ve often been told that an eating disorder is a mental health condition with physical consequences. This rings true for me. I was never underweight, but still suffered all the terrible physical effects.
Slowly but surely, I have been working my way towards recovery. I had to make the choice to sacrifice my entire summer break to work on myself. It wasn’t an easy decision. In fact, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But recovery is so worth it.
I wasn’t able to do it on my own though. I had to reach out for help. I started by contacting Student Health and Wellness, who set me up with a nutrition counselor. This service is covered by tuition, and a great resource to utilize. From there, I slowly started my process of recovery. It’s a long road, but my life is so much more fulfilling and joyful now that it doesn’t revolve around my eating disorder.