Navigating Campus with an Eating Disorder
College can be a particularly triggering time when you’re living with an eating disorder, and navigating school with the illness can be incredibly challenging. With school comes freedom, new experiences, homework, stress, group meals, and more. All of these can cause additional strain on recovery, which is why it’s important to be mindful of your recovery. Despite these challenges, there are certain things you can do to prevent relapse and encourage recovery.
How to Successfully Navigate Campus in Recovery
Living with an untreated eating disorder is extremely dangerous and stressful. Unfortunately, if left untreated, the illnesses often progress over time. Due to their worsening nature, it’s essential to get eating disorder treatment as soon as possible. We know that starting treatment, especially in the midst of school, is extremely challenging. However, some eating disorder treatment centers are able to provide a treatment plan to fit into your life. If you are concerned about the time commitment, know that treatment centers like The Emily Program can work with your schedule to ensure you get the care you deserve. By starting treatment, you can ensure a successful school year where you can focus on school instead of food, body, or image.
If you are just starting treatment or if you have been in recovery for a while, it’s important to prioritize your recovery. College is a busy time where there seem to be endless possibilities: new classes, new friends, parties, study abroad opportunities, 24/7 dining options, and more. With this amount of freedom, recovery can become tricky. Meal plans might become harder to follow and old habits and feelings may return. If this happens, remember to put recovery first. If a heavy class load will compromise your recovery and leave you more stressed out than ever, it may be worthwhile to consider taking a lighter class load. If 24-hour dining options and vending machines make you feel the need to binge or purge, it’s important to structure your life around that setting in a positive way. You may choose to stick to your meal plan or to eliminate potential bingeing triggers from your dorm room. Whatever situation you find yourself in, remember that recovery is the most important thing.
Have a Plan for Triggers and Relapses
Being triggered in eating disorder recovery is extremely common and nothing to be ashamed about. To prevent triggers or to lessen their effect, it can be beneficial to have a plan in place. Decide what you can do or who you can talk to if you are feeling triggered. For example, if your dorm room has free pizza after dinner one day, you might feel the desire to binge, which can be triggering. In this case, you could have a plan in place to avoid bingeing and to lessen negative thoughts. You could hang out at a friend’s dorm, you could eat the pizza in a way that works with your meal plan, or you could eat a slice with friends who understand what you are experiencing.
Relapses in recovery are also common and that is okay! What’s most important is that you have a relapse plan in place. To create this plan, reflect on what a relapse might look like for you and what you think the best way to handle it would be. Keep in mind that if you are experiencing relapse in recovery, it’s important to get support from a treatment team or other professional. One example of a simple relapse plan is, “If I find myself restricting or bingeing, I will pause and recognize that what I am doing is harmful and is a part of my eating disorder. Then, I will reach out to my support system and let them know what is going on. From there, I will find my next best course of action, which could mean meeting with my treatment team or seeing them more frequently until I am secure in recovery.”
Having an eating disorder or being in recovery on campus can be lonely. However, many campuses provide counseling services, which can be helpful for those struggling. There are also programs students can attend to be around folks going through similar experiences—like Recovery Nights. If you are having a hard time finding people to connect with, there are positive online communities to follow that can aid you in recovery motivation. Check out our Instagram for positive recovery-based content!
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, the first step to recovery is to get an eating disorder assessment. From there, a specialized provider can assist you in finding the best treatment option for you. If you are ready to take that step, call The Emily Program at 1-888-364-5977. If you are a former client struggling with eating disorder thoughts or relapse, The Emily Program will welcome you back with open arms and help you get back to recovery.