College Struggles: Eating Disorders and the Dining Halls

With the first month of school coming to a close, there’s something that needs to be addressed in terms of the dining halls. Although dining halls are (somewhat) great and very expensive, depending on your school, I’ve come to realize one very important question that plagues me and many other people: How does one cope with having to eat from a dining hall every day when coping with or recovering from an eating disorder? For those who have not experienced or don’t know anyone who has experienced an eating disorder, an eating disorder is a serious but treatable mental illness that can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic group. No one knows exactly what causes eating disorders, but a growing consensus suggests that a range of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors come together to spark an eating disorder. Once the disorder has taken hold, it can become a self-sustaining process that usually requires professional help and support to recover. Something that many people do not know, however, is that many sufferers, such as myself, never get the support and treatment needed to help with their eating disorder. This does not help when college or university comes into play.

At my school, because of the housing I’ve been placed in, I’m required to have a specific meal plan, meaning that I can eat at any of the dining halls at my school. Even though I am on a meal plan, many people, depending on their school and/or for financial reasons, who suffer from an eating disorder, can’t afford a meal plan. Although I do not know that experience, per se, I do know that it’s been hard even with a meal plan. I am also a vegetarian, which only limits my options at the halls even more. Throughout this past month, I’ve slowly found myself going back to my old habits of limiting my eating, or just casually skipping out on meals and using my studies as an excuse from time to time. As I caught myself doing this, as naive as this may sound, I realized how this is a big problem for various people in university.

College is hard enough, having to deal with academics, social life, work and more, but having to deal with an eating disorder, or any mental illness for that matter, is just another topping on the sundae. Although I am not as bad as I used to be, I know being on my own will definitely make my struggles worse. Thankfully, there is a mental health center on my campus, where I can talk about what is going on with full confidentiality. If anyone has a center on campus where they can vent their feelings or just need someone to talk to, I encourage that you go. I know it is hard to open up at first, but you need to get the treatment and help that you definitely deserve.

Eating disorders are an ongoing daily struggle. I know that I will never fully recover from my years of adolescence and I know, from past experiences, that I may relapse again, but having a foundation where I can finally talk about my eating and how it has affected me, is something I’ve needed for years but never had. You are not alone and you shouldn’t have to feel alone.

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