"Looking back, it seems crazy to me how simply being in my room for two weeks could reverse many months of progress"Rod Long

CN: Discussion of Eating Disorders

Coming to Cambridge was supposed to be my fresh start: in fact it was my incentive and ultimatum to recover in the first place. In the initial weeks Cambridge was a clean slate as I was trusted to exercise freely, people didn’t tip-toe around me because of what I ate or refused to eat, and I could bond with people over food. It was during the moments when me and my household were cramped in the corridor eating mediocre hall food and chatting throughout the evening that I thought “recovery is so worth it”. I no longer felt like the sugar-free, refined-oil free, white-carb free, joy-free anorexic weirdo but someone who could be fully present in friendships and academic work. Even though living in halls can evoke comparison to those thinner or eating less than me, and despite the occasional fatphobic comment, I felt completely secure. Normal, in fact.

This security was quickly undone when I went into household isolation and our accommodation block went into lockdown. Mental health, especially disordered relationships with food, is one of the biggest issues of isolation as people are faced with a scarcity or abundance of food; moving less, disrupted routines and the absence of surveillance from others. Paradoxically, mental health in lockdown is also the big “elephant in the room” unaddressed by universities. For instance, the tragic death of Finn Kitson in his university halls at Manchester University, which was brought on by severe anxiety. During our isolation we received a few optional welfare zoom calls and check-in emails, but mental health at university during lockdown is just not being talked about or addressed enough. I wish there were free accessible therapy, mandatory mental health talks and so much more.

"I swung between periods of binging and struggling with restriction again"


Mountain View

Reclaiming exercise after an eating disorder

Just like the first national lockdown in March, comments along the lines of “I’m going to get so fat in isolation” resurfaced. The fact that Homerton college initially didn’t serve breakfast (this was later resolved) and my determination to continue exercising in the morning even if the gym was closed proved disastrous. I couldn’t follow the meal plan meant to keep me on track and old compulsions linking movement to calorie-burning, rather than improving mood and energy, returned. Once I ordered groceries, I swung between periods of binging and struggling with restriction again, thinking that the latter would resolve the former.

And anyway, who would notice or care? I could try recovery again later. Each minute of every day was filled with some disordered behaviour instead of doing work. Friends, family, academia and hobbies began to fade into the background again. I knew that life could be so vibrant when I chose to live it properly, but when trapped in your room you forget about late night pizza with music blaring in the background; catching up with a friend over coffee and all the other joys that food freedom entails. This was only compounded by the loneliness everyone experiences in isolation. Looking back, it seems crazy to me how simply being in my room for two weeks could reverse many months of progress. Progress which helped me get discharged from therapy and replaced a world of black-and-white food rules with one bursting with colour.

After coming out of isolation I realised the unsustainability of restriction and returned to my routine. As a result, I found balance with food and movement again. In a positive light, going through self-isolation made me stronger as I had to ask myself: is unrestricted eating only for when I can go to the gym? What ways should I use to cope with stress? Most importantly, it taught me that the security I feel in recovery is not to be taken for granted. It is a continual work-in-progress.

"Gaining weight in quarantine, or ever, isn’t bad"

I understand that not everyone will have had an eating disorder, but I do believe that everyone has experienced or will experience disordered eating and problems with internalising the lies that diet culture tells us. Hence the importance of speaking up about food. Everyone going into self-isolation or our national lockdown should know that even at complete rest we need to nourish our brains and bodies; restrictions don’t solve anxieties and it’s okay if you don’t want to do home workouts because movement should be joyful. Above all, gaining weight in quarantine, or ever, isn’t bad. It is only the negative connotations surrounding weight gain in our fatphobic society that is.

However, speaking up alone is not the solution. Talk must translate into action. I hope that the Homerton Rent Strike’s first demand: “Increased investment in student mental health support” is met within my college and uni-wide. I encourage anyone who feels their relationship with food and exercise worsen during self-isolation to seek help from their college, the university’s counselling services or external helplines and websites. Even if it doesn’t seem “bad” enough. There is no “bad enough” when it comes to disordered eating: no-one deserves anything less than full freedom.

If you are affected by any of the content of this article,  B-eat Eating disorders provides useful information and resources, as well as a helpline at 0808 801 0677. The Students' Union Advice Service provides a more comprehensive list of support resources.