Unsolicited food comments - Dealing with Diet Culture at University
Today I’m sharing the third post in my mini series addressing diet culture at University. As everyone’s starting to settle into student halls I thought it might be good to talk about eating around others and sharing a kitchen. 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!
For many people, starting University involves moving into student halls and this means living with other people your age and sharing a kitchen. This can be a massive shift - going from the potential comfort of your routine at home to suddenly being dropped into this new situation with different peoples schedules and eating habits. Similar to the body talk I mentioned before, people are often quick to pass comments on what you’re eating and this can be hard to deal with and it may make you feel different about your preferred choices or cause you to compare your intake to others.
Just some of the things people may say include: “I can’t eat this, it’s too naughty” - an example of someone assigning moral value to food which is nonsense because food is just food. This can be damaging as it can cause you to view certain items as off-limits or fear judgement for eating them. In order to combat the potential urges to avoid this item in the future you can remind yourself that anything you consume that makes you feel good cannot be bad for you, and as a human being you are inherently worthy of all foods. As with all these examples, you can also inform the person who made the comment of this, and explain that food is not only fuel but also to be enjoyed, and whatever you’re eating tastes nice to you. Furthermore, it might be wise to remember that if you do restrict this food your body will only crave it more. This could then lead to binge which may have a further negative impact on your mental health as well as trapping you in a disordered cycle.
Another thing that can happen when living and cooking around flatmates is the development of an identity based around your food choices. Whilst I was at University I was struggling immensely with my eating disorder and people would comment on my disordered meals calling them “healthy”. This made me feel as though I had to continue to eat this way as I was “the healthy one” and I wasn’t sure who else I was beyond that. This insecurity was deep rooted for me but increased by the fact restriction had sucked the personality out of me, meaning I found it hard to engage in social situations. I therefore became even more trapped in this pattern of eating at the expense of honouring my real needs and tastes. Looking back I would now combat this through considering the true definition of ‘healthy’. What’s healthy for one person is not automatically healthy for another as if you are struggling with food or body image the actual healthiest option will always be to eat the food you actually want regardless of it’s nutritional or calorific value, or what others may think. In addition to this you can call on the thought that what you eat is the least interesting thing about you, and no one is going to value or remember you for being the person who ate a lot of lettuce. You’ll be remembered for the friendship you offered, and the memories you made, neither of which will be possible if you restrict your intake as this will also force you to restrict your life.
Beyond this there is the more general food commentary that may exist in your uni flat, such as people claiming certain foods are good for weight loss, or others are a good option when dieting. Often we can internalise these and it can be hard not to think of them when picking our own food as we may feel we should also consume them regardless of whether it’s something we would actually enjoy. Here we have to force ourselves to take the time to assess our intentions and which voice we are listening to, the real us or the eating disorder voice? Your body knows what it wants and needs to keep you safe and it doesn’t matter if that is not the same as someone else's. Your body doesn’t care, you are your own person with your own requirements.
Finally I want to touch on the challenges associated with sharing a kitchen which I mentioned in a previous post about my own University experience. People will inevitably have different hygiene standards to you, and for me it was difficult to deal with people neglecting washing up, using my pots and pans, or failing to throw out old food quick enough. This is never going to be pleasant and so I have struggled to write advice on this matter however I think ultimately it’s just something you have to deal with! Now I know that’s not especially helpful but all you can really do is continue to keep your own belongings as clean as possible and remember that whilst not ideal, a little bit of dirt is not the end of the world. I think often, especially if you are suffering from an eating disorder, cleanliness can be a bit of a control thing and so it can be very stressful if everything is not in order. If this is the case then learning to live with the mess may actually be a real positive for you and aid you in overcoming some perfectionist issues.
Whilst some of the things I have mentioned in this post are situations I don’t wish on any of you, I hope that through reading this you feel better equipped to deal if they do arise. Best of look, and more from me soon!
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3