As I've mentioned in previous blogs, starting university was a pivotal point in my recovery from anorexia. I had been out of hospital for nearly two years and was, for all intents and purposes, 'recovered'. I'd established a stable, healthy weight and in general could eat in public without looking out of place.
But behind that image were the facts that I was surrounded by people who had known me when I was at my worst and so were constantly checking my diet was sufficient, had my parents cooking all my meals so that all I had to do was arrive at the table and eat what I was given without much thought, and had a regular routine which helped me deal with my food plan.
What wasn't displayed on the surface was the on-going mental struggle I was still facing when given control of my own food intake. The temptation to cut out calories where possible was still present, and Ana's voice was still pushing me to give in. Once I left home I could have one of two ways: decide to keep up recovery for myself, or slip back into my old ways knowing it would be highly likely to go unnoticed in an environment where no-one knew my history and no-one had to see me eat.
For me, rowing acted as the most effective treatment plan I could have been given, but for many eating disorder sufferers university can be even more isolating than home life because it is a time when you are old enough not to have your parents deciding that you need treatment and forcing you to stick to it, and have the added excuse of the extreme workload to stay in your room avoiding communal mealtimes rather than socialising. 'I'll grab something later' can't be proven wrong in the way that it can in the family home.
For these people - who either go to university with an eating disorder or develop one whilst there - treatment is not always forthcoming. Those who were previously receiving treatment can easily get lost when made to register at a new medical practice, and those who have not had treatment are unlikely to reach out for help in order to make contact with the services which could save their lives. I've personally known several people who have had to give up or postpone their studies because they have not received any intervention and their eating disorder has prevented them from being well enough to continue!
In a bid to change this system, 'Beat' - the UK's leading eating disorder charity - are currently carrying out a survey into the accessibility of treatment for university students. This participant described their struggle to find ongoing treatment once they moved away from home:
No matter how old you are, if you have or have had an eating disorder and are at or have been to university, please do take just five minutes of your time to fill it out. Your contribution to this vital research could play an integral part in improving the lives of hundreds of students with all types of eating disorders and the services on offer to them!
To take part, simply fill in the survey here.