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.
Today let's discuss the difficulty of having unlimited access to the gym while you're independent
To be fully transparent, this was my biggest struggle throughout my first semester. Exercise has different holds on different people with eating disorders, so this may, *hopefully*, not be a considerable issue for you. But for those who it is, I want you to be aware of this because it truly is not talked about before sending someone with a history of exercise addiction to college.
My Brief History
At university, you will have access to the gym 24/7. You don’t have to drive a car to the gym, and you won’t have your parents or loved ones watching over you and monitoring when, how often, and how long you’re going to the gym each week.
I remember my realization of my total freedom with exercise began my second day I was there; we had orientation and one of the activities (God knows why) was a 5K run around Boston. At first, I saw it and my eating disorder voice took over saying, You need to do that! followed immediately by my healthy self voice reminding me no we shouldn’t” and instinctually added on “Plus Leah and Mom wouldn’t let you”. Then I had an epiphany: they wouldn’t know. No one would know. It was totally up to me (my ED) whether I went for the run or not. I was on my own.
Some may think of this as giving “eating disorder tips or advice” to someone, but the truth is you’ll have this epiphany now or later. It’ll hit you, and I would have much rather had this epiphany when I was at home when I could talk through it with my treatment team than being all alone in a big city with full access to the gym and a running street.
Here are some things that have helped me with exercise addiction
Create an exercise schedule with a team member or support
If you are a big exerciser or an athlete, someone telling you “just don’t exercise while you’re at school” is NOT going to work (as long as you’re medically cleared and have been working out consistently before going to school). However, if you have a plan of what days you will be going to the gym, what you will be doing, and for how long, you will be much less likely to deviate from
Realizing it will be taken away from you if you don’t follow your plan
Okay, this is a big one that you may not recognize until (IF) it happens to you. Personally, my exercise addiction during my first semester got to the point where exercise was taken away from me. I hated it. And when I mean taken away, I mean that if I didn't follow it, I would be sent home. It was terrible. But it helped motivate me more than I've ever been to get back to exercise and keep it healthy. For me, not exercising was horrible (apart from the eating disorder). I am someone who is full of energy and busyness and needs an outlet. Without movement, I felt increased irritability and depression. So I worked hard for movement back and I never want to lose it again. Please, if you enjoy movement, don't lose it. It's a long road back to getting your strength and power back, and I promise it's not worth it.
Practice taking spontaneous rest days before leaving for school
You’ll realize, when you get to school, that you’re going to have a lot less free time than you thought you would. Between classes, work, studying, clubs, and socializing… you’re going to be crazy busy. So sometimes, although exercise is on your schedule, you have to choose something more important over a workout; that’s part of being human. Practice prioritizing other things before exercise by taking spontaneous rest days, so that when those days inevitably come up at school, your eating disorder won’t totally lose its mind.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you
Similar to my advice for food intake, but it’s really up to you. CAN you overexercise and relapse? Sure. Who am I to stop you? Even your team can’t stop you. But we ALLLLL know where that leads. Unhappiness, depression, more unhealthy coping, bad grades, no friends, easting your college experience, shit ton of appointments, I could go on and on. Cause that’s what happened to me. I can promise you, if you stay on track you will be 100000x happier than if you work out for an extra few hours day or skip a meal or two.