No pressure nights out - Dealing with Diet Culture at University
I’m back with the second post in my mini series addressing diet culture at University. I’m sure lots of you will have moved into your student halls this week, and whilst Freshers won’t be the same this year as a result of the pandemic, I still want to talk about nights out at Uni. Before I get started I just want to disclaim that throughout this post I will be referencing some examples of dieting behaviours which some readers may find triggering so please proceed with caution!
At University there seems to be this idea that not eating prior to going on a night out and getting drunk is a good idea!? Students will sell it to you as the opportunity to “look better for photos”, “save calories for alcohol”, and “get drunk quicker and cheaper”. So problematic. Firstly, the suggestion that you will get nicer photos is fat-phobic as it implies that thinness = attractiveness and this is just not true as no one body is better than any other, this is just a lie sold to us by diet culture. Secondly, the concept of “saving calories” is complete nonsense as a calorie is simply a unit of energy and you do not have a limit on how many you can consume. Alcohol is not a replacement for food as it contains none of the nutrients you need, and besides, each meal is completely independent from the next, and you do not need to, nor should you restrict or compensate around different occasions of eating or drinking. Finally it is just plain dangerous to consume alcohol on an “empty” stomach as it will pass straight into your bloodstream, and whilst you may think this sounds more fun - it just isn’t worth it.
Another thing that is often paired with Uni nights out is unsolicited comments about your body. People will talk about how they feel or look quite openly, and I know personally that people often throw around words such as fat or bloated as though they are insults rather than a form of energy and a bodily process. Similarly people will use words such as skinny and toned as compliments, and both can be triggering and hard to receive or even witness. This can make nights out quite a toxic environment and it can be challenging to repeatedly get dressed up in what may be more revealing clothes when you feel you may be being judged on your appearance. This struggle can be enhanced by the pressure to always get photos which you may not feel comfortable posing for, and all of this can amount to you not wanting to join in or having your experience ruined by intrusive thoughts.
For me this was one of the harder things to deal with at University, however armed with all the knowledge from my recovery I now feel I would be able to handle it much better. Therefore, I thought I would list some things you can do if such a situation arises:
1. Speak out about it!
Of course I understand that this may be a massive and scary task depending on how comfortable you feel with your friends, however I believe educating people on how to improve their relationship with their body could be very beneficial. This conversation may look like calling them out on their fat-phobia and explaining that fat is not a feeling, especially not a negative one, or it may involve asking them to stop making weight and shape based comments and helping them understand why they can be detrimental even when well intended.
2. Practice giving non body-centred compliments
You yourself can practice saying things like “your top is a lovely colour” or “your shoes are really nice” in place of body focused compliments, or stray away from appearance all together and compliment for example someone's good humour. Hopefully others will follow in your footsteps and you can then empower one another by focusing on the things that actually influence your relationship such as your kindness and nature rather than the totally insignificant factor of your appearance.
3. Change the subject
If the conversation is making you uncomfortable then try to introduce a new discussion about something unrelated, or if in doubt just pop some music on to drown them out! You are also very much within your right to remove yourself from the situation all together and take some time out.
4. Remember no one cares about your body - it is the least interesting thing about you
If you find yourself stressing over the way you look in photos it can be helpful to remember that no one else cares how you look. Everyone is wrapped up in themselves and anyway, you are not defined by your appearance, regardless of whether you can see it or not you have so much more to offer and your identity is way more complex.
I hope this post has maybe helped a couple of you manage some of the challenges that uni nights out can present if you are struggling with food or body image. If you have any tips of your own please feel free to share them, and remember that you are there to make memories and whilst it can be easier said than done, you can’t let the way you feel about your body cloud them. In 30 years time you will remember the laughs you had, not the way your bum looked in that one photo or the fact you didn’t like your outfit, I promise.
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3