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, we will be talking about Nutrition Labels in dining halls
This is, of course, one of the most difficult problems someone with an eating disorder faces. I was told many times by my treatment team going into college that labels would be everywhere, and although I understood, I truly didn’t believe it would be as prevalent as it is. For my university particularly, they are everywhere. You can not avoid them. What surprised me most, however, was how BIG the labels were. You truly can’t just “not look” - they’re looking you right in the face from the moment you scan in and step foot in the dining hall. So first, don’t enter college assuming, if your university has them, that you’ll be able to just avoid or “not see” the calories listed. Chances are, they’ll be plastered left and right for all the gym bros and diet-obsessed students.
BUT there’s hope! Here are a few things I did/reminded myself of when I would be stressed.
1) Something useful I would recommend is planning your meals ahead of time with a support, whether that’s a dietician, doctor, parent, etc. You can simply make a list of possible meal ideas for the times you walk into the dining hall and immediately feel triggered or overstimulated. Personally, at least currently, I need a fixed schedule laid out of what I’m going to eat, on what day, at what time- with flexibility of course for what I’m craving or a sudden change in schedule. If I just make a list of possible meal ideas for any time, chances are I’ll choose the safest option when I'm stressed. This is totally okay sometimes, but if I continued to do this I would not move forward in my recovery by pushing myself for harder foods when I’m struggling. I definitely recommend working with a support for meal ideas or meal schedules to help reduce the overwhelming feeling of choice when faced with Arial size 145 font calorie labels.
2) Eating with friends who are not immersed in diet culture can immensely help too. I have been so beyond fortune to have found a close group of friends, none of who are involved in diet culture. We eat what we want, when we want, and always get dessert - it’s just what we do. They have helped me, unknowingly, to listen to my body and push me to eat an adequate amount of food even when I am stressed or feeling down. They don’t even have to know about what you’re going through - simply leading by example helps me more than any other kind of support.
3) Let’s be real. We know a lot of this information already. This doesn’t sound great, but none of us are totally ignorant of the calories in many foods - we simply have fought hard to ignore them. It's not as if we're showing up, seeing these numbers, and thinking "Oh wow, I had no idea on Earth XYZ had this many calories!" Be honest with yourself. But how did we recover with constant access to these calories? We focused on what these calories do for us - they allow us to live. They help us focus in class, socialize and be present with friends, walk around campus, workout when we want to... everything. They allow us to stay at school where we want to be. There is no way you can restrict and live a healthy happy life - it's impossible. So choose what you, not your eating disorder, truly want to eat because that's going to help you live your best life.
4) Just because they’re taped to the glass window over the food, don’t pretend this is your only source of this information. If you were struggling, you would find out with a quick google search the calories in xyz. Sure they may be more prevalent now, but it’s the same as having the information a quick Google search away. At the end of the day, nothing has changed. It’s up to you if you want to listen to the ED voice in your head or not.