Planning for College While Recovering from an Eating Disorder
By Kelly Burch
Getting started on the path to recovering from an eating disorder is a major accomplishment. If you’re in recovery, chances are you’ve learned to better manage your thoughts and behavior and are getting better at advocating for your physical and mental health.
But maintaining your recovery while taking university classes or living on campus might feel like a whole new challenge. Here’s how to plan for a new chapter of healing and set yourself up for success when you’re in eating disorder recovery in college.
Recognize the Potential for a Healthy Relationship with Food
Moving to college gives you an exciting opportunity (and responsibility) to establish new routines. That’s scary, but also full of potential. If you can establish strong recovery habits in college, you can really set yourself up for a healthy relationship with food throughout your adult life.
Don’t Shy Away from Your Recovery
It’s really tempting to think of college as a fresh start where you don’t need to think about your recovery anymore. But this isn’t a time to relax your recovery routine—it’s a time to fiercely protect it. Be very intentional about strengthening your recovery. Continuing to do the hard work might feel annoying or frustrating, but it will be worth it in the long run.
Work with Your Treatment Team
Ideally, you already have a treatment team that you know and trust. If you don’t, prioritize finding one sooner than later.
Eating disorder professionals, along with other trusted adults in your life, can help you evaluate when you’re ready to take on the challenges of college. They can also help you create a plan for handling challenges on campus, like deflecting friends’ diet talk, dealing with body changes, and ensuring that any behavior lapses don’t become relapses.
Take More Control of Your Medical Care
Identify Your Challenges
The transition to college is tough for everyone in different ways. But people who are in recovery are especially vulnerable during this big change.
Identifying your challenges and planning ahead for them can help you feel empowered to handle whatever comes your way. For example, if you tend to isolate, you might choose to live with a roommate who can help keep you accountable. If you’re worried about eating in the dining halls, work with your treatment providers to make a plan for handling meal times.
Ask for Accommodations
As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, you’re eligible for certain protections and accommodations as a student with a disability. If you don’t identify as disabled, hearing that can be uncomfortable. But all mental health conditions are considered a disability (whether short term or long term) for which you’re entitled to specific support.
These accommodations are there to help you succeed. It’s better to ask for an accommodation and not need it than to not have one when you need it. Register with your college’s disability office before you arrive on campus and ask for what you need, whether that’s time out of class to attend therapy, extended deadlines, or anything else that helps you maintain recovery.
Plan for Setbacks
Although the best-case scenario is that you find balancing college and recovery a breeze, it’s also important to know what you’ll do if you have any setbacks or signs of relapse.
Work with your treatment providers and parents or caregivers to create a relapse prevention plan that identifies your signs of relapse (you can see examples here and here). Consider asking a trusted friend or roommate to let you know whether they notice any of these signs. If you’re worried, chat with the Crisis Text Line or text “HOME“ to them at 741741. These emergency resources are also helpful.
Celebrate Your Strengths
Healing from an eating disorder takes a lot of strength and requires a good amount of support. Celebrate how far you’ve come and don’t shy away from validating yourself, even if it flies in the face of perfectionism. Giving yourself the credit you deserve for the hard work you’ve done already might help you feel ready to take on a new set of challenges in college.
Want to learn more? Check out this guide to planning for college while in recovery from an eating disorder. When you’re ready, read more about maintaining eating disorder treatment and recovery in college.