eating disorders

Graphic by Mariko Kuroda

Eating Disorders and Study Abroad

Students share perspectives and complications arising during studying abroad in regard to health and eating.

Oct 1, 2016

“When I first moved to New York, I was overwhelmed with excitement about being in the big city and so, I found my eating habits naturally quite healthy. I was where I had always wanted to be and I was loving it; there was no stress, the curriculum was ridiculously easy and everything was just a blast. And then the stress started coming in. Relationship worries. Fights with friends. Class work started piling up. You name it. And then the disordered eating came back at full speed, more intense than it had ever been before,” wrote junior Adam Ashraf in an email to The Gazelle.
Studying abroad can be a difficult experience for many students, but for some, the stress or challenges of being in a new environment can lead to eating disorders. For Ashraf, who has had an eating disorder since the age of 10, studying in New York led to the return of his overeating.
“I would skip meals and then go eat three burgers at a time. I would spend 15 minutes at a time just staring at the mirror and feeling like shit and then, instead of doing anything about it, I would just revert back to old habits and go down to McDonald's to grab another burger,” wrote Ashraf.
Junior Kelly Murphy also experienced an eating disorder while studying away in Buenos Aires.
“So I'm vegetarian, so I usually just eat salads all the time, but that’s not really what they eat at all in Argentina. It's mostly potatoes and cheese and breads ... At first I would just not eat lunch because that was the thing that I could control but then I started skipping breakfast too. So I was only eating dinner but then the dinner was so heavy because it was always potatoes with cheese ... I would usually finish dinner so my host mum was happy and then go into my bathroom and then throw up,” said Murphy.
Unlike Ashraf, Murphy had not had an eating disorder prior to studying abroad.
“I was kind of really shocked by how bad it got, because it got to the point where I was throwing up every dinner and then in Buenos Aires, for the first half of the semester, we didn't have a counselor. So at the point where I realized it was going to become a problem we didn't have anyone to go to, and then by the point that we finally got a counselor, I didn't care, so I didn't bother going at all,” said Murphy.
NYU advises students who are studying away to “contact us prior to departure in order to plan for mental health treatment, if indicated.”
In an email to The Gazelle, Clinical Psychologist and Wellness Counsellor at the NYU Abu Dhabi Health and Wellness Centre Vedrana Mladina wrote, "Bearing in mind that one of the typical onset and high prevalence ages for [eating disorders] falls within the age range we are dealing with when providing support for our students, makes us very mindful of it and prioritizes not only the treatment, but also the appropriate preventive and harm reduction strategies that can be implemented on a larger scale in cooperation with other departments."
Ashraf sought support from outside of NYU.
“The resources had always been there but I had not sought them. The first thing I did was I started attending a 12-step program not unlike Alcoholics Anonymous in its structure, called Overeaters Anonymous … I also switched from an NYU counselor to another counselor who is specialized in eating disorders and 18 to 25 [year-olds] off campus,” wrote Ashraf.
While Murphy’s eating disorder did not change her love for her host family, it did dampen her experience of Buenos Aires.
“It definitely negatively impacted my study abroad experience because it ended up becoming a consuming thing. I would be sitting in the campus centre … [knowing] that we're going to have this big dinner and I don't want to eat anything because that's going to be way too much and then it just made me interact negatively with the city … I just wanted to go home where I could make my own food,” said Murphy.
Going home was the solution for Murphy, who was able to eat the foods she wanted and return to her regular diet. Ashraf, who is in New York for this semester, found alternative methods of coping.
“I also started meditating and doing Hatha yoga. Engaging in mindfulness through these tools really helped me get better and think about why I was doing this for myself, to align my goals and know where I needed to get,” wrote Ashraf.
Connor Pearce is Editor-in-Chief. Additional reporting by Kristina Stankovic. Email them at
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