10 Ways to Stick with Eating Disorder Recovery in School
With school starting, it’s common to feel a mix of emotions including excitement, anxiety, and stress. For those in middle and high school, the start of school often means a new schedule, new teachers, and adjusting to new classes and classmates. For those starting or returning to college, school may mean moving, new roommates, challenging courses, and the difficult task of navigating conflicting priorities.
If you're also struggling with an eating disorder, starting school may trigger or worsen disordered behaviors. If you find yourself relapsing in your recovery or engaging in eating disorder behaviors to cope with the changes school brings, the most important thing you can do is reach out to get professional help. In addition to seeking treatment, there are other ways to stay on track in recovery during school.
1. Prioritize Your Recovery
If you are entering school while in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s important to prioritize your recovery above all else. Before starting school, we recommend making a recovery plan with your support team to keep you on track in your recovery. This plan should be specific to your unique situation and should focus on your health and wellbeing. That means placing your recovery before your grades, before sports, and before social outings. If you start to relapse or are no longer able to maintain a healthy weight and healthy eating behaviors, you should speak with your support system and a medical professional as soon as possible.
2. Stay Connected to Your Support System
If you are starting school with a strong support system, it is important to stay engaged with those people. Having a reliable network of people who know your story is essential to eating disorder recovery. If you start feeling disconnected from your support system, reach out via text, call, or email. By maintaining a dialogue with those that are on your team, you may experience an easier recovery and fewer relapses.
3. Meet Your School Counselor/Local Therapist
If you are in high school or college, it can be helpful to connect with a therapist or counselor at your school. By connecting with a mental health professional at school, you create a built-in, local support system. It’s key to discuss your eating disorder history and current treatment plan with a local therapist so they can understand your eating disorder and better help you throughout your recovery. If you meet with a mental health professional that you do not mesh well with, it’s important to know that it’s okay to try a second professional. It’s essential that you are able to connect with your therapist and feel comfortable relying on them for support. There’s no shame in trying out a few therapists to find one that is right for you!
4. Set Regular Check-Ups
In order to make sure you are staying on track with your recovery in college, it’s important to set regular check-ups with your doctor, treatment team, and support system. We suggest scheduling check-ups with a medical professional to make sure you are maintaining your physical health while in school. Medical professionals will be able to assess your basic health and make recommendations if you are not meeting key health requirements. We also recommend meeting with a therapist or counselor regularly. School can cause people to become stressed, sleep deprived, anxious, overwhelmed, and a variety of other feelings. By having regular meetings with a mental health professional, you can better monitor your recovery and learn new methods of dealing with negative emotions. Last, make sure you are staying in contact with your support system! Try to check in weekly about how you are doing and feeling.
Develop Eating Routines
Before starting school, make sure to look into what typical meals and meal plans will look like. It’s important that you decide on a plan that is best for you and your recovery. If you tend to isolate and skip meals, it may be helpful to do a meal plan that will allow you to eat three meals a day that are pre-prepared. This will also allow you to eat with friends if you need a support system during meals. If you are worried about the buffet-style dorm food and afraid of binge eating, we suggest making a plan with your therapist or nutritionist about how to best portion and structure meals.
Before starting school, it may be helpful to practice eating in the style you will in school. This may mean finding a local cafeteria and eating meals there or going to a restaurant off-campus. You can evaluate the experience and identify potential triggers or difficulties. From there, you can meet with your treatment team or support people and create a plan for potential setbacks you may experience.
6. Manage Triggers
Before you enter school, it’s important to identify what your potential triggers may be. Triggers are defined as any occurrence that poses a challenge to your recovery. Common triggers for those struggling with eating disorders may include hearing conversations about weight or size, seeing people eat minimal amounts of food, listening to friends talk about burning calories, or hearing people make shaming comments around food choices.
After identifying what your potential triggers may be, think of ways to cope that don’t include engaging in disordered behavior. If you find yourself triggered, we suggest starting by acknowledging your feelings and reminding yourself that it is okay to feel triggered. From there, it’s essential to take a breath and not make any rash decisions or let yourself spiral out of control. Instead, remind yourself of how far you’ve come in recovery and how strong you are. Choose to act in favor of recovery. If you are comfortable doing so, you may choose to tell those around you that their conversations make you feel uncomfortable.
Always know that if you feel triggered, you can connect with your support people or reach out to a mental health professional. It’s okay to ask for help if you need it!
7. Practice Stress Management
With classes, work, friends, and everything else that comes with school, it’s natural for us to feel stressed. Instead of letting stress build up inside of us, it’s important that we develop healthy ways of releasing stress and relaxing. Some common stress management techniques are gentle activity like yoga or a short walk, or more relaxing activities like taking a bath or watching a movie. We also suggest releasing your stress by journaling or talking to friends that understand what you are going through.
8. Expand Your Support System
If you are starting school without a support network, it’s essential that you make one. We know making new friends and gathering a support system can be difficult and intimidating, but it’s essential to a successful recovery. If you aren’t able to build a network of new friends or if you don’t have the luxury of a family that supports you, there are other options to create a support system. We recommend seeking out a therapist or attending an eating disorder support group. We also offer recovery night support groups that are free and open to the public. These are a great place to start building a support network.
If you are entering school with a strong support system, there is value in working to expand your network. Once you are settled into the groove of the new school year, work on connecting with peers going through the same experience as you (college, recovery, etc.). This can be a huge aid in maintaining recovery and finding solidarity. By connecting with those around you, you can talk and work through problems together from a similar point of understanding.
9. Be Gentle With Yourself
Recovery is exhausting and frustrating at times. Remind yourself that it’s okay to not be perfect all of the time. It’s normal to have bad days in recovery, so it’s important to not let one hard day negate all of your progress! If you are having a hard day or feeling bad about yourself, make a list of all of the things you did during the current week that were positive. Did you eat all of your meals? Did you not binge? Did you do something nice for someone else? Be gentle with yourself. Keep in mind that you are doing the best that you can with the situation you were given and the knowledge that you have.
10. Know When You Need Immediate Help
It’s vital that you know your limits in your recovery. If your eating disorder begins to get in the way of your day-to-day life or if you are unable to maintain a healthy weight at school, it’s essential that you get immediate professional help. In addition, if you are feeling overwhelmingly anxious or depressed, it’s recommended that you seek out a mental health professional. If seeking treatment means you have to take a break from school for a bit, that is okay! Once you have stabilized your mental and physical health, you can return to school.
If you are returning to school with an eating disorder and looking for support, reach out to us at 1-866-212-6479. If you prefer to not use the phone, you can fill out our online contact form here. We can provide you with treatment options and support that fit into your schedule. We also recommend looking into the tips given by our guest blogger, Blythe Baird, on how to heal from an eating disorder.