As I’m nearing the end of my first year of college, I wanted to take the time to both reflect on my own successes and struggles, as well as offer advice to those who will soon be going to college themselves. There are endless worries and stressors for those NOT in recovery - but for those in eating disorder recovery, the difficulties one will face exponentially multiply.
Nevertheless, you CAN do it: and you can love the college adjustment process! These are some difficulties I faced this year and how I managed to tackle, or begin to tackle, them.
Let's talk about the struggle of having unlimited access to binge-trigger foods 24/7
For those with binge eating disorder, college can be an immense change. Before leaving for college, when I was living at home, the factor that controlled my binge eating disorder was the embarrassment I felt when I would binge and my parents and sister would find out. It stopped many of my binges because I knew they would find the wrappers, would find me bawling in my room at 11:30pm, or would go to have a cookie and find two boxes totally gone. And of course, if my house was out of any “good” foods, the food I would always binge on, I wouldn't be inclined to binge either. However, when I went to college, I realized that I was on my own, with total access to grocery stores and take-out restaurants and fast-food joints all over the city; the only thing to stop me was my limited debit card. However, this was hardly enough motivation. I struggled with binge eating a lot throughout the beginning of my first semester, and thought it was always going to be a problem. But I have not binged in quite some time, and I want to offer some advice as to what’s helped me.
EAT ENOUGH DURING THE DAY
This is of course the biggest thing. Do not restrict yourself during the day. I don’t mean just “eat three meals
a day”. I mean snacks, caloric drinks, desserts, the whole shebang, in addition to wholesome, fueling, nutritious meals. Your brain will consider anything less a sign of starvation and restriction, which will of course lead to a binge later. Additionally, I have found that if I skip a meal or snack, I may consciously or subconsciously tell myself at night, “Well, I didn’t have my afternoon snack so I can eat something now” which will then prompt a late-night binge. Eat what you want, when you want (no more of this I just ate a half hour ago I can't eat again bullcrap), and what you need to eat to reduce your urges.
Personally, I know that weekends are a big binge trigger for me. So I try and make sure I am either doing something with friends or if not, I make sure to eat a later dinner with my friends before retreating to my room full and satisfied before going to bed. If you feel comfortable filling your friends in on what you’re going through that's great, though many of us don’t. None of my friends know about my binge eating, so I instead just ask to do something, or if we can go get something to eat so I can at least distract, get in a better mood, and fuel myself and my body in a controlled setting
Keep food in your room that can help you when you’re hungry late at night
It’s a very very fine line between keeping fueling, substantial food in your room that will help curb cravings late at night, without keeping food that will always be a trigger. Personally, I followed this order:
In the beginning, I just kept foods in my room that I knew I would not binge on. Cheerios, carrots and hummus, protein bars and shakes, fruit… foods I liked but would never binge on. They were very helpful during the day, though these were not substantial enough to curb my nighttime cravings
I started to bring some more snacks into my room, such as some chocolate and more good-tasting, less chalk-tasting bars (AKA granola bars), and individual bags of chips or peanut butter crackers. This was very hard. I had never been totally alone with many of these foods, and at the beginning I would binge, particularly late at night or when I was stressed. But I learned that hiding these foods out of sight was incredibly helpful so that they were not the first thing on my mind when I walked in and would see them on my desk. I had doubts when I started whether this would help, but it’s almost magic for me. If I have a craving or I’m hungry I’ll remember they’re in the room, but for the most part, I forget they even exist in my little dorm room.
My next goal is to keep more of my binge foods in my room, enough that maybe I can have a meal in the morning in my room instead of going to the dining hall if I’m tired or running late. It’s a work in progress, but I am astronomically better than I used to be!
When you do binge, focus on forgiveness and self-compassion
This is by far the most difficult part of binge eating. In the past, I would restrict and exercise the day after a binge, somehow convincing myself that this time it was just to "get back on track" and not binge later - ya right. I can promise you that punishing yourself and your body will never do anyone any good. There's no point in dwelling in the past - just move forward. Wake up the next morning and have a good, nutritious breakfast. Leave yesterday in the past. You did nothing wrong by eating. Human beings eat - sometimes more, sometimes less. But it'll all be okay.