Eating Disorders Abroad
For many students, food is a significant part of experiencing another culture when studying abroad. Partaking in another culture's food can offer insights into local flavors, as well as rituals, etiquette, and experiences of belonging.
However, studying abroad and being exposed to new and different foods can also be a challenging experience for people with eating concerns or who are recovering from an eating disorder. If you are concerned about how you might experience food abroad, we encourage you to seek resources and prepare plans to cope and manage your experiences ahead of time.
(If you have religious, lifestyle, or medical dietary restrictions, review the Dietary Restrictions Abroad page.)
Learn About Food Customs in Your Host Country
It can be helpful to learn about the cuisine, common dishes, and food rituals of your host country/city:
- What types of foods are most common?
- What time of day are meals typically eaten?
- Which meals tend to be bigger or smaller?
- What cultural customs are associated with food and eating?
You should also consider what your food experience may look like depending on your housing and meal plan:
- If you are responsible for preparing your own meals, will you have access to a full kitchen?
- Where are nearby grocery stores likely to have ingredients for foods you may wish to cook?
- Will your host family provide most/all of your meals?
- Are there certain foods you wish to avoid that you can communicate to your program director or host family ahead of time?
- What cultural traditions or expectations exist around eating out?
- What snacks or food preparations can you make for any weekend travel?
Prepare For Challenges Abroad
Stay connected. Studying abroad can feel isolating at times, and it is important to stay connected to your support system back home. Consider scheduling regular Skype, FaceTime, or phone calls with family members and close friends to ensure you will have ongoing support as you navigate the everyday challenges of studying in a new country. Knowing where and how you can find support can help mitigate triggers and stressors as they occur.
Bring your self-care routine abroad. Taking care of basic health needs is important for all study abroad students. Exercising regularly, practicing yoga or meditation, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, journaling before bed, or taking walks outside—whatever you do to make time for yourself at Northwestern should be incorporated into your schedule while abroad. Maintaining stability through your well-being can help you adapt to your new environment.
Pack some favorite snacks. Travel can be stressful—at times, you may need the comfort of a familiar food or a reliable snack. Consider packing some travel-safe snacks, such as granola bars, trail mix, crackers, peanut butter, etc., that you can eat on-the-go or to help you adjust to a different culture's eating routine, such as different meal times or sizes.
Access Professional Resources
Regardless of whether you have a formal diagnosis or general concerns about managing your relationship with food while abroad, you are encouraged to disclose any eating concerns to your GLO adviser or your on-site study abroad program director. Disclosing can help us connect you with country-specific information and resources, including setting up support in-country ahead of time.
Before you go abroad, you are encouraged to seek support from Northwestern Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) or another health care provider. Working with a health care professional can help you determine if study abroad is a healthy decision for you at this time and to develop skills and resources to prepare for challenges you may face abroad.
While abroad, your GeoBlue Global Health Insurance covers access to mental health services such as therapy or counseling, with zero deductible and no co-pays. This is a confidential service, and it is your choice whether to disclose this information to anyone—including your parents/guardians. GeoBlue also offers a range of Remote Care Services to make mental health care accessible to students.