Editor's Note: This article contains descriptions of disordered eating patterns. Reader discretion is advised.
The day I began writing this article, I had what I would call a food crisis in the middle of Marketplace.
For context, within my limited time at Duke, I’ve established a routine that I strictly adhere to from the moment I wake up to the moment I head to my first class. Every day, my breakfast at Marketplace is the same: a cup of water, ten pineapple chunks from Leaf and Ladle and two pre-packaged servings of Original Cheerios from the Gluten-Free Bar. The day I began writing this article, there was a crucial disruption in my routine—a disruption in the form of missing Cheerios.
Okay, Viktoria. Don’t panic. You have a Plan B for a reason. I repeated this mantra in my head as I searched for a pre-packaged serving of Lucky Charms. No luck there either. Okay, Viktoria. Don’t Panic. You have a Plan C for a reason. My back-up English muffin was also missing.
Okay, Viktoria. Now is the time to panic.
I was completely frozen in the face of Marketplace’s glaring heat lamps. Forget my major exam coming up that week or my club meetings later that day. My mind was entirely fixated on how granola had too many calories, yogurt couldn’t properly be measured, scrambled eggs could have excess oil—oh look! Groups of students have already come and gone with their stacks of properly-balanced breakfasts. Why can’t I do the same?
The reason lies in the fact that I am one of 30 million Americans who struggle with an eating disorder. I was formally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (restricting type) at thirteen years old, and I’ve endured a cycle of recovery and relapse in the five years since. Like many of my peers suffering with or without a diagnosis, my struggles lie in the numbers on a scale and on a nutritional label. I’m working to scrub my brain free of those digits. In pursuing freedom from my anorexia, I have begun to take refuge in routine to establish hunger cues and spontaneity to break down my food rules.
Recovery isn’t a linear or stable process. One triggering event can unravel months of progress, which is why I was fearful of entering Duke. Upheaving my entire life from Connecticut to North Carolina meant new foods and routines. It meant having to engage in a campus culture that is so often revolved around eating. It meant being far away from my support system and having to step up as the only one who can hold myself accountable. What if I couldn’t rise up to the occasion?
Marketplace encompasses all of these fears. For someone without an eating disorder, the idea of getting to serve yourself heaps of diverse foods under one swipe of a card may sound like an enticing, economically-sound idea. For someone with an eating disorder, having to serve yourself prompts nothing but an increased heart rate. Portion control and food choice are entirely up to you. You can serve yourself a plate of nothing but cabbage or sweets if you’d like. You can fill your tray or only fill up a portion of it.
Even just walking into the building causes me to break out into a nervous sweat. It’s not like West Union where I can order a sandwich and salad pre-portioned at Panera, or McDonald’s where I can make sure I get enough through the calories listed on the menu. Marketplace is challenging because of the onus on me to ensure that I make the right choices for recovery.
I’ll be frank: it would be very easy for me to leave Marketplace with a bowl of spinach and claim that I ate my dinner for the day. I could convince myself that I’m still following my meal plan, without actually pushing myself to portion what’s right for my body, because my swipe has been completed for the day. To avoid these temptations, I’ve developed a series of strategies with my nutritionist that have been working for me...well, most of the time.
For starters, before I enter my version of a battlefield, I remind myself about my values: having my parents see me happy and healthy, being medically stable enough to have children, being able to eat out with my friends like a normal college student and being able to have enough brainpower to achieve my aspirations. With these reminders, I’m more inclined to employ techniques that allow me to hit my nutritional goals. I’m more inclined to properly eyeball my portions, setting out a fistful (cup) of carbs, two palms-worth of protein and as many vegetables as I want. I’m more inclined to use NetNutrition—not in a way that causes me to restrict, but in a way that allows me to visualize whether my breakfast, lunch or dinner is enough to fuel me.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
I was able to overcome my Marketplace meltdown through these methods. I looked at the glow of the oven lights and reminded myself of why I came to Duke in the first place: my future. I can’t fulfill my aspirations on an empty stomach. For that reason, I mustered up the courage to enter the Leaf and Ladle line and spoon some yogurt and granola into my container. I was terrified, but I suppose that’s one of the positives to Marketplace in my recovery: having the ability to choose discomfort all on your own. In that moment, I owed conquering a fear of food to no one but myself.
That isn’t to say that I’m a model of recovery or that my methods work for anyone else. This article isn’t meant to epitomize how one should approach eating disorder recovery when dining at Marketplace or at Duke in general. Nor am I trying to say that everything is magically okay now that I have some tools to aid in my struggles. On the contrary, I’ve been facing my eating disorder more intensely these past few weeks. Still, I’m making the effort to choose recovery every day, and that’s all I can ask for.
I know I’m not alone. The majority of full-blown eating disorders begin between the ages of 18 and 24, and the stresses and pressures of academia and independent living are the perfect breeding grounds for them. Coupled with the 4.4 to 5.9 percent of adolescents who are entering university with an eating disorder, I understand that a lot of students at Duke are currently undergoing the same struggles that I am.
To the freshmen navigating Marketplace under duress, to the Blue Devils fretting over the pressures of WU and Pitchforks and drinking, access the nutritionist at the Student Wellness Center. Use benchmarks to ensure you’re properly satiated. Write down your values before every meal. Remember what recovery will give to you and what your eating disorder will take away from you. Recovery and success go hand in hand. There’s no room on your plate for your eating disorder.
Duke Student Health Nutrition: (919)-681-9355
NEDA Helpline: (800)-931-2237
Viktoria Wulff-Andersen is a Trinity first-year. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.