Help! I'm a College Freshman

By Kyla Buckingham

College is not meant to be an arduous struggle with eating disorders. It is meant to be a time of self-discovery, with learning about yourself and meeting people, with taking risks and trying new directions. College has the potential to be some of your most exciting years yet, or some of the most miserable. For me, it has been both.

The early stages of my depression and eating disorder began in high school. When I got to college I expected a fresh start in a brand new city to help me recover. I instead faced a two-year downward spiral to an inpatient treatment center, then spent the next two years on my toes to maintain recovery. As a super-senior (what they call fifth years) whose education has been interrupted too many times by anorexia and bulimia, I wish I had known the following as a college freshman beginning to reach out for help:

DO talk to friends, be honest with your family, trust your mentors, and visit your counseling center. Meet with your professors at their office hours. Enlist as much support as possible because you'll need all of it.

DON'T turn down invitations because you are depressed or afraid to eat around others. Eating disorders thrive on loneliness and secrets. Isolation is an enemy.

DO get involved in the community. Join a club, meet new people, and find out what really makes you soar.

DON'T worry about the freshman fifteen myth. Tips on "bad" foods are worthless, will only intensify your fear of food, and may encourage you to try fad diets. Instead, work toward recovery and health. There is no need to worry if you are at a healthy weight for your body type and living a balanced lifestyle.

DO attend therapy, and stay there. Remain in therapy even if you are doing better, because slips are inevitable.

DON'T get a diet buddy or workout buddy who doesn't know about your problem. Otherwise, he or she may unknowingly encourage harmful behavior.

DO tell a close friend or professor the warning signs of a relapse. It can be hard to admit that you're struggling, and someone who knows what to look for can be lifesaving.

DON'T get caught in the perfectionist trap. Employers care less about grades than your personality—it's true! Take time to enjoy yourself, not beat yourself up because you didn't get an A.

DO take time off when you need it—time to relax, time for recovery, time for self-care. College is not a race, especially if hurrying compromises your health and happiness.

DON'T DO too much. Recovery is a big job. Classes and work on top of recovery may overwhelm you. It's too easy to slip into auto-mode when you're busy, and auto-mode for many of us is an eating disorder. Remember, most of your peers don't have the kind of recovery work you do!

DO answer the phone when it rings.

DON'T compare. It's easy to feel inadequate in an environment filled with exceptionally smart and talented people. You don't need to be the best. Try to think about what interesting company this new crowd makes, and remember that you are a part of a community.

DO seek a second opinion, a third doctor, or a different therapist if you are uncomfortable with the care you're receiving. Be sure to ask yourself if it is your eating disorder or your heart that is uncomfortable, though.

DO give yourself unconditional permission to love yourself. An eating disorder doesn't make you a flawed human. Of course you will make mistakes, but that does not detract from your value.