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Preparing for College while in Recovery

I have to start this blog by saying that depending on where you are in your eating disorder journey, taking a semester or year off can help tremendously with stabilizing your recovery long term. In the moment it can be so hard and upsetting to do this but the long-term benefits cannot be matched. Please talk to your treatment team to make sure that going/returning to school is right for you at this time and if it is not, know that a small break will not change things in the long run. A student with anorexia nervosa should have been eating properly and independently for at least six months prior to going away to college.

August:

Oh August- so many feelings and memories associated with this month as I write this blog and remember the first time I left for University of Maryland. Being away from home, living on your own, taking the next step in furthering both personal and professional values and of course having so much fun. While leaving for college can be an emotional and perhaps challenging experience for anyone, leaving for college with an eating disorder can make things even more difficult.

New Routine:

Anytime you are out of your natural environment and routine, it gives the eating disorder a chance to rear its ugly head yet again and stir up those restrictive or obsessive thoughts-tempting you to give into this voice in situations you have never been in before. Not to mention all the stress that comes with school, finding activities that you enjoy and finding “your people”, your support away from home.

Dining Hall:

And of course, the actual act of eating in the dining hall, having someone else prepare food for you and eating in the presence of others can be very challenging in ED recovery.

So what can you do about this?

Here are some ways I work with my clients to prepare for college in recovery from an eating disorder.

Be Prepared

1) Be Prepared: Like every ED recovery post I write, planning ahead almost always makes its way into the text. Once you know you are going to school talk to your treatment team and have plan a b and c in place for all situations at college. I have also written up contracts with my clients and their family and therapist to know if any action needs to be taken while at school. It is good to have everything cleared up before going away and knowing if we need to pause and come home to work on recovery vs staying in school.

college

Be prepared for all situations

Find Support

2) Find Support: Some colleges will over support groups, therapy and nutrition services. Again do your research and work with your current team to make sure the support at school has ED experience and has enough time in their schedule to see you as needed. I have also worked with clients virtually which can help the transition to school sticking with someone who already knows you. Often times health centers will do a blind weight check to make sure that is being monitored. If you are local to University of Maryland, there is a shuttle bus you can take to our office. We provide both individual appointments and group meal support.

meal support

Practice in College-like Situations

3) Practice in college-like situations: As much practice as you can get before school, the better. Work with your team to set up experiences that may mimic the college setting- for example,

  • Eating at a buffet that mimics a serve-yourself dining hall
  • Having someone else prepare all your meals for you (if they are not doing this already) to get used to someone else doing this
  • Having a pizza party with your RD
  • Discussing quick breakfast and snack ideas you can eat in your dorm and making them with your RD and eating them together
  • Printing out your schedule and writing in specific meal times/ideas
college

Buffet dinner at home

More Resources to help you prepare

Use you voice, ask for help and be an advocate for recovery. For more resources on recovery for an eating disorder in college check out:

Work with a treatment team

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, and desire more support from our Registered Dietitians, please click here or call (240) 670-4675 to schedule an appointment today!

Blog originally written by Kait Fortunato, RD, LD, CEDRD. Edits by Rebecca Bitzer, MS, RD, LD, CEDRD.

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