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Going to University is an exciting time in your life. For many, it means moving out of home for the first time and meeting lots of new people. But what if you’re living with an eating disorder?

Before you even step foot on campus you might be feeling some anxiety about how it’s going to affect your uni life.

First things first. You’re not alone. The eating disorder charity BEAT asked 200 students and found that 32% of those asked were diagnosed with an eating disorder after moving to university. And 53% of students already had an eating disorder before university.

Let’s bear in mind these statistics come from an eating disorder charity. So, most of their circle are people with eating disorders. But, over 50% of people had an eating disorder before going to uni? That’s pretty big numbers.

What happens to eating disorders at University?

Some may worsen. This can be due to:

  • Time alone for the first time

  • Being 100% in control of what you eat for the first time

  • New stress or new situations that you find stressful

  • New people, or just a larger number of people than you are used to

  • New surroundings

  • New routines, or lack of routine

For some people, their eating disorders improve when they start university. This may be due to:

  • Having a break from home life that they find triggering

  • Freedom to eat as and how you wish

  • The idea of a ‘fresh start’

  • Opportunities to eat with others

  • Finding new support structures at university

If you’re not sure which way your university experience will go, we have some tips to help.

How to practice a healthy relationship to food at university

  • Explore your new city & find food spots. With friends, family, or flat mates

Your parents or family/friends could help you explore your new city. Perhaps when they help you move to campus you could explore a bit?

If they are aware of your eating disorder they can help you navigate your new surroundings, especially when it comes to food. Now might be the chance to use social eating to your advantage if you decide to go out with new flatmates or university friends.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to try a certain type of food, or there’s a local market that looks enticing. Using food to explore can be a nice way to learn about the city and get to know those around you.

  • Figure out the logistics of how you’ll get food shopping, where the closest supermarkets are or shops for snacks

This is a big one that we help clients with when they transition to uni life.

Sometimes it’s the unknown that causes us the most anxiety. So preparing may help you feel most confident. Working out a budget for food and making a shopping list etc. may be super useful. There may be some resources online that help with this or working as part of a group with housemates might take some of the stress off your shoulders.

We’d mostly recommend this approach if you find structure helps with your eating disorder, and you can move towards a more ad-hoc approach as time goes on. If you find it super overwhelming to plan everything then maybe a more relaxed approach is better.

Another note that eating disorders can be surprisingly expensive (see our article on this) so it may be useful to keep track of finances – binges may add onto your food cost, or if you find you’re not spending enough on food you may be restricting.

  • Try to build a bank of recipes and meals that you can cook

Especially in the first few weeks when you’re still adjusting you might want to have a list of easy meals and snacks at hand. You don’t have to try a whole new cuisine or make Michelin star meals when you first start cooking for yourself. The stereotype of student meals consisting of cheap pasta, noodles, or rice dishes is a stereotype for a reason. Cooking for yourself might be a new skill.

Making an effort to find meals you enjoy eating or are easy to cook can be super useful. Whether it’s saving recipes on Pinterest, Instagram, or buying a recipe book to cook from. This may help to make it a little less overwhelming and help you feel more comfortable with cooking and eating.

If you previously had a meal plan as part of your recovery, it may be worth using that as a base to work from if you’re accustomed to those meals. You can then build from there and start to branch out. If you’re looking for support to move away from ‘’meal plan eating’’, we might be a good fit. Reach out to us here to chat about our approach.

  • Make where you live a comfortable, happy space

If you’re moving out of home where your family members and guardians dictated the decor, now might be the time to decide what makes you feel good. Maybe it’s a certain colour, or posters/prints on the wall. Perhaps it would feel good to have a journal and know that no one will enter your room and find it.

If there’s anything you find triggering, you can try and make your new space more comfortable for you. Both physically with things like pillows, blankets, nice smells. But also mentally, with affirmations like ‘’this is my space, I’m happy here.”

  • Have fun! Whatever that means to you

University is full of new experiences. Whether it’s societies and clubs, events, or going to clubs with your flatmates. Find what works for you.

If that’s going out and socialising, then great. But if not then don’t feel pressured to. Doing something you don’t want to do can increase your anxiety and make you feel not very confident. Which can make you lean on your eating disorder more as a coping mechanism. It can also increase the risk of you hiding the eating disorder and engaging in behaviours such as eating in secret, or restricting more.

Give yourself time to find what you like, and who you are outside of your eating disorder. You are not your eating disorder. There are so many other parts of you that you get to discover at university. Try and let that excitement lead you.

Nourishing before drinking alcohol

Make sure you have plenty of carbohydrates before drinking alcohol. Restricting before a night out is a bad idea, even if it makes you feel more confident, or makes your eating disorder happy. Skipping food, especially carbohydrates can lead to:

  • Alcohol hitting your system much harder means you feel more ‘drunk’ quicker - and the risks that come with that. Food slows the rate of alcohol absorption by up to 75%!

  • You’re at increased risk for alcohol poisoning which has its own side effects like passing out, hypothermia or loss of coordination and confusion.

  • You will experience a worse hangover

  • You might get more side effects of alcohol such as dizziness, vomiting, disinhibition and stupor

  • In very rare cases if you’re fasting then drink a significant amount of alcohol you might end up in the emergency room with a condition called alcoholic ketoacidosis

If your eating disorder means you’re underweight, or you struggle with binge eating, be wary of drinking too much alcohol. Make sure you’ve eaten enough before drinking to reduce the risk of binging. There’s a great range of 0% alcoholic options out there too.

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for support: speak with your parents, tutor, mental health team on campus, course leads

It can be tempting to keep your eating disorder a secret. You might worry it will be the first thing people know about you, but universities are aware that many students suffer from eating disorders. There are services in place for this reason. Whether it’s counselling, wellbeing services, mentors etc., you can find something that works best for you.

It might be that you don’t use these services for now, and that’s okay. But knowing they’re there and that they are aware of you may be useful. When you first move to university it may be worthwhile registering with your new local GP and chatting to them about your eating disorder if you are already seeking treatment closer to home. This allows continued care.

Know that some universities offer extended deadlines, help with costs and other support for those with eating disorders under their mental health schemes. Check with your university to see your options.

And if you don’t want to tell the people you live or socialise with you can still lean on them for support in other ways, such as asking them if they want to cook together or all go grocery shopping together. Whether they know it or not they may be able to help you feel more supported. Even social eating may help you.

  • Keep in touch with any existing support structures you have

If you have a really tight support network at home, you don’t have to lose it because you’ve moved to university. It’s tempting to want to be super independent and not rely on your parents as much but if they helped you with your eating disorder pre-university, they may offer some great support while you’re there.

A lot of people get very homesick at university or call their parents/guardians/friends weekly. You’re not weak for needing help. Especially given you may not know many people yet.

Accountability may be really useful if you are following any treatment programme, having someone check in regularly on how you’re doing, if there’s any goals or targets you’ve set or anything you have to work through. We’ll always put something off unless we have someone to check in with, just like a university assignment.

It will also hopefully help prevent you from bottling everything up inside. That’s when self-destructive thoughts and/or behaviours might kick in.

  • Focus on other aspects of uni life, maybe you’re studying a subject you really enjoy or living in a city you’ve always wanted to live in.

Have a think about what else you want to get out of university other than what you eat. Do you love your course subject? Do you want to take up a sport that your student union offers that you wouldn’t have had access to before?

There are so many things to be excited about. And they don’t cancel out any anxiety from your eating disorder, but they might help with perspective.

A note here that often your first year doesn’t count / you just have to pass to move onto your second year. Living with an eating disorder can be tricky and adding extra pressure to get the best grades may trigger some thoughts and feelings that lead to restricting, binging or purging among other behaviours. We all want to do our best, but having a slightly relaxed mindset may help deal with the changes of first year.

Ask yourself – what am I most looking forward to?

  • Recognise that it can be tricky in the beginning. But it will get better. You have years to explore and grow

I know when I started university, I imagined a fresh start just as I’d seen in movies and books, it would be idyllic. But it’s hard. A new place, surrounded by new people that are all as nervous as you - even if they don’t look it, trust me they are. And maybe quite a few people are trying to reinvent themselves. It takes time to find a routine, find your people and find what works for you. All while studying at a high level. It’s a lot.

Give yourself some patience. And the grace to try new things, maybe get it totally wrong and then try again. There is no sure way that everyone follows to get through university. You’ll find your own way.

  • Have a plan in place should things go wrong

If you know what triggers you, and the patterns that your eating disorder may follow then you may benefit from making a plan should ‘things go wrong’.

This can be made with someone already supporting you, whether that’s a friend or family member or a health professional. And they can check in on you if need be. Sometimes we don’t notice things in ourselves until behaviours escalate. Maybe having some signs to look out for in yourself will help you feel more supported.

Recovery is not straightforward; obstacles will crop up and it’s dealing with them that helps build confidence in your ability to live with your eating disorder and eventually recover from it.

We really hope these tips are helpful. We wish a great transition to university life!

Team Ease Nutrition Therapy x


We are a specialist eating disorders and disordered eating online clinic. We support people with troubled relationships to food with expert Nutrition Counselling.

Founded by Shannon Western in 2019. The team has grown to welcome wonderful Dietitians and Nutritionists all to help you feel better with food.

Are you:

  • Struggling with feeling overwhelmed or out of control with eating?

  • Unsure about when, why, and how much to eat?

  • Ready to take the steps (however small!) away from your eating disorder, disordered eating, or long dieting history?

We are here to help you do just this (and more). All with compassionate, practical, supportive person-centred Nutrition Counselling.

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