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College Life

How I Cope with My Eating Disorder Triggers and Behaviors in New Places with New Foods

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A girl with both of her hands tied to the table with measuring tape on a plate with a fork to the left of her, and a knife to the right of her.
Source: Westend61 | Getty Images

Eating Disorders are extremely complex and persist based on sets of rules, routines, and compulsive behaviors that make the all-consuming disease a top priority.

Because people with eating disorders (ED) are forced to operate through these food rituals in order to maintain control and feel safe, starting over in a new place with new foods can exacerbate ED thoughts and compulsions. For me, transitions like moving to college and going abroad forced me to find coping mechanisms to put my health, not my ED, first. 

I have had an eating disorder since I was 13 years old, and I am now 20. 

The most crippling thing about an eating disorder is that no matter how your weight fluctuates up and down, or how your emotions and relationships evolve, your disease will always be a part of you. 

In treatment, we gave our disorders names to try and conceptualize the intimacies and attachments of a relationship with an ED. My Anorexia, fondly referred to as Anna, is a part of me.

However the difference between my relationship with my ED when I was 13 versus now, is that I now have the tools in recovery to keep my thoughts and behaviors in check. 

When I was 13, I physically could not eat a bite of pasta no matter how much my non-ED brain wanted to. Now, if I want a bite of pasta and have those same self-deprecating, restrictive thoughts, I have the autonomy and upper hand to choose to raise my fork to my mouth against my ED’s wishes. I now make choices in spite of my old friend, Anna. 

It is now important to recognize when access to those coping mechanisms and tools becomes threatened, as I have recently started a new chapter of my life studying abroad. When I was packing for my four month stay in Denmark, I couldn’t help but reflect on the challenges 

I faced making a similar complete overhaul of my life when I moved from home to the University of Michigan. Leaving for college felt different than leaving for abroad, as back then I had been chained to my recovery by my parents’ watchful eyes. 

When I left for college, I imagined a new world of opportunities to restrict and give in to Anna without my parents or childhood friends noticing.

When I got to school and all of my safe foods from home had been replaced with confusing dining halls and new foods, I immediately reacted by restricting once again. Everything I had learned in recovery flew out the window. 

Being in a completely new place meant that the triggers and behaviors I had kept at bay with safe foods and routines at home were now reopened wounds, raw, exposed, and I had no idea where a new set of bandages would be. 

Instead of being able to establish new guidelines and coping strategies at Michigan, my disease overpowered me once again.
Source: Tessa K | WeHeartIt

Instead of being able to establish new guidelines and coping mechanisms at Michigan, my disease overpowered me once again. 

Seven years later, I’ve more than found a routine, exercise regimen, and comfortable eating resources at Michigan and am the healthiest I’ve ever been. The coping strategies I re-found and the new tools I learned in my relapse are ones that I am taking with me abroad. 

Ways to Cope with Eating Disorders

Firstly, finding a non-triggering or ED behavior-based activity that would also give me a support network is essential. I realized that my long distance running had become Anna’s primary crutch, the perfect mechanism to control me once again through numbers.

So, I gave up the gym entirely and found yoga as a new outlet. I established a community at the studio that I knew would be looking out for me, and then did yoga teacher training to give myself a set exercise and study routine that would be supplemented by emotional support and plenty of self-reflection.

For me, finding this nurturing outlet full of people to help me grow has been instrumental in my recovery. Within my first couple weeks in Denmark, I tried four different yoga studios and found two that I know I can always go to. In taking this practice abroad, I’m able to find some normalcy to keep me grounded.

Another coping strategy that I’ve learned to bring with me wherever I go is knowing to research and plan ahead. As soon as I received my housing assignment in Copenhagen, I immediately looked up what kinds of foods and resources would be in my area.

I scouted just a few restaurants and eateries that would have food I’m comfortable with, packed a box of my favorite granola bars and snacks, and reached out to my assigned roommate to let her know I’d need support. 

And, though I’ve planned ahead, I’ve also learned that in the face of new foods I must at least try to take on the challenge of being uncomfortable and have safe food to fall back on instead of reverting to restrictive behaviors.

 I try to make choices in spite of what my eating disorder wants, but recognize how my day to day limitations will affect these choices.
Source: Cali Legitness | flickr

 A difficult part of navigating recovery is that it isn’t as easy as just telling yourself to eat.

 I knew I wouldn’t arrive in Denmark, go to a new restaurant with foreign foods, and immediately be able to pick up a fork and dig in. Instead of restricting like I did as a Freshman at UofM, I went into this new chapter prepared to at least try new foods.

If that meant triggering ED thoughts and feeling compulsions creeping back in, I knew that I had safe food at home, and a list of places to get safe food instead of just not eating altogether. 

Recovery is a give and take: sometimes I challenge myself and win, and other times it’s too much and I make sure I have a plan B to fall back on. 

Lastly, over time I’ve worked hard to weigh the pros and cons of these challenges and be honest with myself on where I’m at in my recovery. I try to make choices in spite of what my eating disorder wants, but recognize how my day to day limitations will affect these choices.

When I left for college, I could only listen to the voice in my head which gave me two options: eat the short list of safe foods I had established at home, or starve. Now, living in Copenhagen, I can challenge that voice and try all the new foods I can’t try anywhere else, while also knowing my recovery is safe.

College Life

Learning Styles: How To Recognize Yours & Maximize Your College Studies

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People sitting around a table in conversation.

We’ve all heard the phrase “I’m a visual learner” or “I’m an auditory learner” before, but what does that actually mean? These statements refer to the theory of “learning styles.” This is essentially stating that we all have a predisposition towards taking in information a certain way. This theory goes as far back as Aristotle in 300 BCE, but has gone through a few evolutions since then. One of the prevailing models of learning styles currently is the VARK model, created by Neil Fleming in 1987, which stands for visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic learning. 

This is a breakdown of the types of learning styles, how you can recognize if you belong to them, what that actually means, and ways to improve your learning utilizing that knowledge.

VISUAL LEARNER

How to Recognize It: 

Visual learners are, shockingly, focused heavily on images and visualizations. Do you feel as though you only really remember something if you see it? Do you think as much in images as you do in words or feelings? Do you rely heavily on visual cues when interacting with other people? If these are true, you may have a visual learning style.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Visual learners thrive off of graphical information. Being presented with a chart or diagram makes sense and you’re great at decoding images. When asked to explain something, you’re pulled to visualize it in some way, maybe with gestures or a drawing, and you are great at making that leap between what’s in your head and what exists in the real world. However, when that visual element isn’t at play, you may find it harder to remember information or conceptualize something new to you.

“Visual learners learn best by seeing. Graphic displays such as charts, diagrams, illustrations, handouts, and videos are all helpful learning tools for visual learners.”

Tips for Learning with this Style:

Since visual learning is your wheelhouse, play to that strength. Use study tools like flashcards, concept and thought maps. Try to find videos or images describing concepts you’re trying to understand.

“Since sight is key, visual learners need materials in front of them to help get the information fully committed to memory.”

Simple things as well, like color-coding notes or highlighters may help you retain and file information more efficiently. Try out a few of these ideas and see how it works!

AUDITORY LEARNER

How to Recognize It: 

Do you feel at your best during lectures? Do you prefer podcasts over just about anything else? Do you have a habit of talking aloud to yourself to keep on task? You might be an auditory learner. 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Auditory learners thrive off of sound. When they’re left solely with reading or still images they may find it difficult or impossible to focus, whereas they feel perfectly at home listening to a teacher talk about the very same topic. To many people, lectures and podcasts might be understimulating, but to you, they’re perfect. Auditory information sticks in your memory and you remember whatever you’ve heard really well. Additionally, verbalizing your ideas is something you’re good at, and you are great at getting your point across with words. Conversely, if you have to learn something another way you might have some difficulty. Schools focus heavily on visual assignments like reading and graphics, so you might find it difficult a lot of the time to thrive in modern classroom environments.

Tips for Learning with this Style:

Listening and speaking help you learn, therefore do them as much as possible! Ask to record lectures so you can replay them for yourself later. Raise your hand and talk in class, as verbalizing your ideas will help you remember them later.

“Talking about your ideas and voicing your questions will increase your understanding of the material.”

Additionally, as simple as it is, reading assignments aloud can also help you retain the information. Just hearing the information out laud might be all it takes for it to click.

READ/WRITE LEARNERS

How to Recognize It: 

Are reading assignments your favorite? Do you feel completely comfortable with essays and writing assignments? Maybe you like to write on your own time, or never leave home without a book? You might learn best through reading and writing. 

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Reading/Writing learners work best with the written word. Text is easy to recall for you and putting your thoughts down as words is a simple task. Essays and other papers are not the source of stress you might’ve seen many other people experience and a long reading assignment is something you can really sink your teeth into. However, graphical depictions, lectures, and other methods of instruction might slip past your hearing altogether. You really need to have the words in front of you before they make sense or are retainable.

Tips for Learning with this Style:

Words work best for you, so use them! Write out study lists, take extensive notes and reread them to review. Take any term or information that’s important, and rewrite it. The act of putting it down in your own words will help you retain it, and so will simply rereading it. Phrase whatever you can into words and you’ll really be able to master the information.

KINESTHETIC LEARNER

How to Recognize It: 

Have you been told since you were a kid that you have too much energy? Do lectures and long assignments leave you fidgety and desperate to move? Did you buy a fidget spinner during the craze a few years back? You might have a kinesthetic learning style.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Kinesthetic learners learn best when their bodies are being engaged during the learning process. That means muscle memory is something that forms incredibly quickly for you, maybe after only one or two tries. You might also have a fast reaction time and feel constantly energetic. However, all those traits may detract from traditional classroom learning. Staying still for long periods of time may stagnate your brain and cause information to go in one ear and out the other.

Tips for Learning with this Style:

The most important thing to remember with a kinesthetic learning style is that your body needs to be involved in some way. Walk around your room while looking at notes, use a fidget-toy during class to help you focus on lectures, make notations and marks on whatever you’re studying. The act of tying the information to movement will help it stick.

“Often, those with a kinesthetic learning style have a hard time learning through traditional lecture-based schooling, because the body does not make the connection that they are doing something when they’re listening without movement.”

Learning styles are a great tool for your educational journey, even into college. Hopefully, these tips will help you maximize your learning by playing to your strengths with your learning style.

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College Life

5 Ways to Tell if You are a Workaholic

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been working from home as students and employees. Many have fallen into the cycle of overworking without taking time for themselves. Here are a few ways to tell if you are becoming a workaholic, as well as ways to have a healthier work routine. 

1. Working countless hours a day 

One of the easiest ways to identify workaholism is when you lose track of how long you have been working. Getting up from your desk and not knowing the time, missing meals, or realizing that you have worked into the early morning hours are all signs of this phenomenon. The solution to this is simple: create a daily work schedule that allows your brain and body to relax, allocating time for meals, sleep, and other leisurely interests you may have. This will not only be beneficial to your mental health, but also to the content of your work, as many studies have shown a correlation between being well-rested and creating quality work.

2. Losing contact with friends and family due to overworking

The isolation caused by the pandemic makes it extremely hard to feel connected to the people in our life, especially if we do not regularly see them. For people who are naturally introverted and work-driven, quarantining makes it easy to use work as a coping mechanism for loneliness and other negative emotions that may be exacerbated due to the pandemic. Luckily, in our age of social media, we can stay in contact without physical presence. 

A black and white photo of a women sitting at a table, stressed.
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If you feel like you have been losing touch with family and friends, make a goal to reach out to them on a weekly basis. Even something small like checking on a loved one will keep you “in the loop” with those that you cannot regularly see in-person. It is important to remember that we will eventually go back to regular contact with these people, and that in the meantime, it means a lot to just reach out and let them know we are thinking of them. 

3. Deprioritizing your mental health due to overwork 

We have witnessed an astounding drop in the general public’s mental health due to COVID-19, and burying oneself in work is a common coping mechanism that people justify as “quarantine productivity”. Without regularly seeing the people who make sure we are doing okay, the pandemic has forced us to be much more accountable for our own mental health, which is extremely challenging if all our time is consumed by work. 

A women sitting at a table doing work on a laptop.
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Like the other solutions on this list, keeping track of your mental health comes down to maintaining healthy routines and checking in on yourself, since contact with others may be difficult. Making sure you do enjoyable activities everyday is integral to keeping your mind healthy. While working may be an easy distraction from dark thoughts or feelings, it is not a solution. Maintaining habits that make you feel relaxed or happy will be much better for your overall mental health. 

4. Dropping hobbies due to an obsessive focus on work

This sign of being a workaholic is as easy to identify as it is to fix. Ask yourself, “are the things I do for fun still a part of my daily or weekly routine?” If the answer is “no”, then most likely you are replacing your hobbies with additional work, which produces anxiety and sadness, as you are more stressed and spending less time doing things you truly enjoy. Simply prioritizing your interests and hobbies, one or two days a week, is a great way of counterbalancing a heavy workload.

A cartoon of a women doing many tasks at once, speaking on the phone, on the computer, holding a purse.
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5. Missing out on sunlight or fresh air on a daily basis

One of the easiest ways to make sure you don’t overwork is to get outside, at least once a day, and take a walk or run around your neighborhood. While this may seem easy enough, it can be extremely difficult to motivate yourself to leave the house once you have already started working for the day. Therefore, it’s great to go on a morning walk or jog before you start working. It will leave you feeling more content and energized, so you can start your day on the right foot.

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College Life

How People are Connecting Online During COVID-19

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4 people connected online through their phones.
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Connectivity has become more important than ever in our ever-changing society. Amid the many horrors of this year, many people are finding social interaction to be crucial to their daily life, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has complicated that. As a result, friends and strangers alike have gotten creative with how they connect with each other online.

Friends and family have certainly had no problem staying in touch. Between texting and apps like Snapchat, it’s no trouble for individuals to keep in touch with their loved ones. Even a traditional phone call and the popular Zoom have allowed for friends and family to see each other when catching up, creating an experience as close to in-person as it can be right now.

The real trick this year has been meeting new people. While this might only be a problem for some, many people, especially college students, have struggled to make new friends amid social distancing guidelines. It has given many the chance to try out independence, but the loss of social interaction can be upsetting for some, and even unhealthy for others.

A person connected online using an iPad.
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Humans are very social beings, and to lose that aspect of our day-to-day lives can be detrimental to our mental health. However, there are still several opportunities every day to meet new people as a part of various communities, and those relationships have all the potential of any real-life friendship.

This summer, with the increase in stories being shared by members of marginalized communities in accordance with the Black Lives Matter movement, thousands of people discovered these shared experiences through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The interconnectivity this created granted many their first opportunity to see the world from another perspective.

Minority communities from every corner of the world came together this summer in response to police brutality and other social injustices. Twitter in particular offered many an outlet to give live updates on protests, activism, and individual stories. This helped to create awareness everywhere, and even celebrities joined the mix to connect with protestors and minority communities demanding justice

One of the most astounding examples of the power of these connections has come through the enduring relationships founded on social media websites. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, online connections between individuals were not uncommon, especially among young people who were adept at developing relationships through the Internet. However, with recent events limiting our access and opportunities, others have had to get creative with how they interact, spiraling into a mass connection of individuals all over the world..

Once, these friendships might have been concerning, even unhealthy. Social interaction is meant to be a personal, and emotional dependency on another person and does not always thrive via text, email, tweets, or any other form of online communication. However, many people have no choice now but to cultivate these relationships online. Whether it be for their own health or the health of others, an online connection is one of the few safe ways we have to maintain social interaction.

A close up of Twitter with the blue bird avatar and their motto of
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This, of course, raises many concerns regarding universal access to the Internet. Within the last decade alone, the Internet has become such a vital part of our everyday lives, and many people, especially students, might find it difficult to navigate their daily lives without it. In a world that now relies almost entirely on the Internet, there are obvious feelings of distress when it comes to how some people will stay connected.

As we continue to adapt to a post-COVID world, this is only one of many issues that will need to be addressed. Beyond safety, public health, access to resources, and more, we are seeing a build-up of social issues that will need correcting, in addition to the ongoing threats of police brutality and institutionalized racism. Already, there have been responses to this as protestors demand change in major cities globally. Their fight is ongoing, and they have made note to recognize the plight of people battling the COVID-19 pandemic and these other social injustices.

There has always been a feeling of distrust toward the Internet. It comes with so many unknowns, especially as data revealed in recent years has proven that our information is not as secure as we once thought it was. However, it has given us access to a surplus of information, educating countless people on topics that they do not experience themselves.

The social connections formed online has allowed individuals to share their stories, serving only to deepen others’ understanding of the world. In the coming years, it is likely we will continue to see this reliance on social media and the Internet rise, and, if the day ever comes where we can safely interact in person again, we will have been bettered by the connections that began behind a screen.

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