Tough Stuff

Speak Out: My eating disorder almost kept me from studying abroad

"Scotland, huh? I guess your journey is just beginning."

Though the old woman next to me on the plane meant no harm, she had no idea how wrong she was. Yes, the start of my semester abroad in Scotland was still about ten hours away, but boarding that plane was nowhere near the beginning of my journey.

Ever since I took my first French class at age 12, I had been dreaming of new cultures, foreign languages and exotic foods—and the second I learned about study abroad, I knew I had to go to a college with a high-quality program. I worked hard in high school to get into a great college, and kept up the hard work my freshman year so that my GPA would qualify me for any program I chose.

By sophomore year, I had chosen and applied to the program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. And while my chances of getting accepted were good, my chances of actually being able to go were not.

I had developed an eating disorder, and most of my time was spent miserable and hungry, constantly worrying about what I was putting in my body. I worked out for two to three hours a day, planning my day around trips to the gym and avoiding the dining hall at all costs in case I was tempted to eat something unhealthy. Soon, I even stopped going out with my friends; if it stayed out too late, I worried, I wouldn't be able to get up in time for my morning workout.

One day, however, I was forced to go to the dining hall to meet with some of my peers for a project. Just to have something at the table with me while everyone else ate, I grabbed an apple and a cup of tea. I remember focusing so hard on the apple, debating whether or not to eat it, that I can't even recall the meeting. That night, I lay in bed with my mind spinning, panicked from hunger. I knew I needed help if I could ever make my dreams of going abroad come true.

The very next day, I went to my college's nutritionist, told her what was going on and signed up for a recovery program offered through the school. I'll be honest—the process wasn't pretty. I spent a lot of time worrying about how I looked, how much I was eating and how full I would feel after eating. Every single meal felt like a Thanksgiving dinner, and there were days that I feared I would relapse.

The dream of Scotland, however, kept me motivated. With only nine months until I left for the program, I knew I needed to stay on track and push myself every day to get (and stay!) better. I didn't want to be consumed by my concern about calories in all the new foods I would try or to spend my days running in the gym when I could be exploring foreign cities.

Almost a year has passed since then, and I am thrilled to report that I am happy, healthy and loving every moment of my study abroad experience. I've traveled throughout the country and to Ireland and Germany, and my fear of food has been replaced with excitement to try the cuisine at every new place I visit. Every day, I take time to reflect on all of the hard work it took to get where I am today, and I can't wait for all of the new adventures to come.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues, get help by calling 1-800-931-2237 or clicking HERE.

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by Abby H. | 5/11/2019