How I overcame Anorexia at university

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness week

The 22nd to the 28th February of this year is Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Eating disorders is a subject that is very close to my heart, as I struggled on and off with anorexia for five years between the ages of 13 and 18.

My illness was at its worst in my first year of university because my family and friends weren’t there to supervise my eating habits like they could do back at home.

The combination of adjusting to a new environment, feeling homesick and coming to terms with a recent and very painful breakup only heightened my anxiety and what I ate became one of the few things I could control. For the first semester I ate nothing but cereal once or twice a day. I only realised the severity of my illness when I saw the photos from my brothers’ wedding at the beginning of semester two.

I was a bridesmaid and in every picture I looked pale, gaunt and tired. But most of all, I didn’t look happy and that needed to change.

skinny judith

Freshers, when I weighed 6 stone

It is easy for sufferers of eating disorders to continue in a downward spiral when they are at university. Firstly, there is the absence of parental or guardian supervision. In most households, food is made and served to you and if you’re not eating what you’re given or you’re purging or binging afterwards then the problem is much more obvious than it is at university and you’re in charge of feeding yourself.

Furthermore, at school, your friends and teachers are seeing you every day for a period of six hours minimum – again the problem is more noticeable in this environment. But at university, you’re in a bigger place with different people who you may not be necessarily spending the best part of the day with you five times a week.

When I was at school, my friends noticed something was wrong when I wasn’t eating anything during the day and a gym teacher noticed when I barely had any energy to get through a P.E. lesson. At university, there was a time when I couldn’t get out of bed because my energy was so low yet my hall mates didn’t seem to notice how weak I had become.

judith 1

September last year, happy and healthy

It is so much easier to maintain self-starvation if no one tries to intervene – admittedly it can be hard to notice someone with an eating disorder, which is why it is so important to learn to recognise the signs:

  • Is the individual eating three proper meals a day?
  • How often do they go to the gym – or more to the point, do they need to go to the gym?
  • Do they wear several layers of clothes indoors and complain that they’re always cold when no one else is?
  • Do they eat with you?
  • Do they suffer from fatigue, dizziness, fainting and headaches?
  • Are they reclusive?

These are just a couple of points to take note of because ultimately someone suffering with an eating disorder does need help and often wants to be helped. I am fortunate enough to have a very understanding and supportive family who never judged me for all the crazy little things I used to do like spending ages picking all the congealed fat out of my pepperoni slices before putting them on my pizza.

Though I overcame anorexia mostly on my own, my family and close friends were there every step of the way and now I have a much healthier relationship with food and body image.

Recently in the news it has been reported that there has been a severe lack of focus on mental illness in the health care sector. The government agrees that something must be done but greater funds are not going to be invested until 2020.

Until we get better funding its up to us to help anyone we may know who struggles with a mental condition.