Credit: Ciara McAlinden

Lectures, vodka, and anorexia nervosa

By Gemma Bruce

The battle of living the student life with an eating disorder.

Content warning: Eating disorders

I consider myself to be a relatively brave person: the thought of jumping out of a plane, with nothing but a scrap of fabric to save me, thrills me, the dark intoxicating heights make me feel alive. So why then am I so afraid of food?

Throughout 2019 and 2020 I developed anorexia and as it gained control over me, as the obsession with food and weight became lethal, everything around me became muted. All that mattered was becoming thinner. Anxiously stepping on the scales became a ritual, measuring myself and performing bodychecks was a compulsion I could not resist. 

“Most people don’t understand how unbearable it is. There is no relief from an eating disorder.”

Your mind becomes a carousel of torment: of how to lose weight, of food you can’t eat, of the body you hate. Begging on the bathroom floor for it to stop,  tears cascading down your face so quickly you choke on them, you would surrender everything for momentary peace. 

I realised change was necessary when I lay awake last March, paralysed with fear that if I closed my eyes, they’d never open again. Recovery began well – then anorexia’s claws pierced my skin and reclaimed me. I’d be lying if I said I was back to “normal” or “cured”. 

This year I reached a point in recovery where I told myself I was fine- yet, after moving to uni, I was confronted with two conflicting realities. I have come a long way in recovery and have no desire to relapse. However, I am still definitely not recovered. 

I still refuse a second, even first, cookie, I avoid participating in drunken takeaways and 3am toasties, I pick the lowest calorie shot at the pub because those seven extra calories are too insurmountable, and my mixer is always “diet”. The excessive drinking arouses anorexia’s voice, and although I shouldn’t, it’s sometimes easier to listen. 

Uni life can be overwhelming while suffering with an eating disorder. The lack of control, the spontaneity of pizza nights or lunch dates can clench your stomach with trepidation; but avoiding plans involving food and missing out on socialising is not the answer – that’s not living. You cannot “live” with an eating disorder. We have this misconception that one day our eating disorder will expire when we reach a certain age – but it won’t. You have to choose recovery. 

“Avoiding plans involving food and missing out on socialising is not the answer – that’s not living.”

Recovery can be hard. It’s uncomfortable, exhausting, and frustrating – you feel so alone because no one seems to understand it’s not as simple as “just eating a burger”. But a wretched day in recovery is better than a day in the imprisonment of your eating disorder.

So here are a few things that can help:

  1. Confront your fears with others – recently, my flatmates and I ate cookies out of the oven with spoons at 1am. I would never have done this by myself. 
  2. Just do it! If you’re thinking about eating something, just do it. Otherwise, it will plague your thoughts. 
  3. Speak to someone – this can be a friend, family member, professional; anyone. This is much easier said than done, but it can motivate you to keep fighting when you’re struggling.
  4. Make use of BEAT – their website has lots of information on EDs and offers online and telephone support.
  5. Write a list of fear foods from least to most scary and challenge them – if you don’t, they will only materialise into even greater obstacles. 
  6. Confront fears with a familiar comfort – I often combine a fear food with a “safe” food, which makes it less overwhelming
  7. Distractions – sometimes, after eating, the ED voice attempts to poison your thoughts; distract yourself to avoid that voice.
  8. Be honest. This is the one I struggle with the most. Stop saying no to food that you want. Stop telling yourself you’re fine when you’re not, be honest and acknowledge that change is needed. 

Your eating disorder ends with you. Choose life; choose “sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth.” Choose that 2:37am UberEATS; the option you want from the menu; cheese toasties at 5am; choose life. 

I consider myself to be a relatively brave person, so ask me again, do I want a cookie? And I’ll try to be honest this time. 

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please look at the available resources at


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