Maintaining Treatment for Eating Disorders in College

By Kelly Burch

Even if you’ve made huge strides and are thriving in eating disorder recovery, the transition to college brings on many new challenges. Whether you’re living on campus or at home, balancing schoolwork with a social life—plus the demands of treatment or recovery—is a lot. Planning ahead and working with your treatment team can help you succeed in recovery and in college.

Set Your Treatment Team

First, you’ll need to decide whether to stay with your existing treatment team or connect with new providers. This article about establishing your treatment team in college has a lot of great information for anyone transitioning to college with a mental health condition. 

Although campus counseling can be a good resource, many college mental health services don’t have the expertise that people in ED treatment and recovery need. If you need a new team, there are two national eating disorder nonprofits that help people get connected to specialized treatment providers: The National Alliance for Eating Disorders and Project HEAL.

Learn more about getting mental health care on and off campus and transitioning to college with a mental health condition

Connect with Resources

Plan ahead for the resources you might need on campus. The disabilities office can help you with accommodations for class assignments, your living situation, and even meal services. Student support groups or clubs focused on eating disorder recovery, dismantling diet culture, or creating positive body image may also be helpful. Check your school’s directory of clubs and groups before you get to campus and find one that will help you continue your healing in this new environment. 

Decide the Role You Want Your Parents or Caregivers to Play

If you have trusted adults in your life, they can be an extremely important support for your recovery. But now that you’re an adult, too, it’s natural to want more independence. It’s OK to set boundaries with parents and caregivers. Just make sure your boundaries are coming from a healthy place of sincerely wanting to manage your recovery on your own, rather than a desire to have fewer people keeping an eye on you. 

Read more here about privacy and mental health in college

Create Community and Accountability

Eating disorders thrive in secrecy. Creating a community—or even living with others—can give you people to be accountable to. Try to eat most meals with other people. If you have people you can trust, ask them to support you in your recovery and let you know whether they notice any signs that you might be slipping. 

It might be annoying to feel like you’re being watched, but having people around you who know how to help can be a lifesaver.

Consider How to Tell Your Story

Sometimes, it might feel like your eating disorder or recovery is your whole identity, especially with people who saw you through the tough times. In college, you’ll be meeting lots of new people. You get to decide what you want to tell them about your ED and recovery. There’s no wrong answer, but it’s helpful to think ahead of time about what’s right for you.

Know How to Ask for Help

Part of proactively managing your recovery is planning for when you need extra help. Learn to recognize your signs of relapse and know where to turn when you notice them. Ask your treatment providers to help you form a plan for when you need extra support. Keep emergency numbers, like your doctor’s and parents’, close. You can always chat with the Crisis Text Line or text HEALING to 741741 if you need immediate help. 

Entering college while you’re in treatment or recovery can be really scary. But it can also be a great opportunity to strengthen your healing. Plan ahead and always reach out for help well before setbacks evolve into a crisis. 

Remember, there’s no shame in asking for help or admitting you’re having a setback. You get to define what recovery means to you. Whatever it looks like, know that full recovery is possible! Learning to maintain your recovery at college is a major step in that direction.

Find more information on body image concerns and eating disorders

Search Resource Center

Type your search term below
Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.