To those of you heading back to school or going off to college for the first time, know that there are many things you can do now to help you navigate this exciting, but often scary time. College culture can be particularly difficult for those with eating disorders. Remaining focused on eating disorder recovery in college will be essential.
In my years working in a university counseling center and running a campus-based eating disorders treatment team, I saw firsthand that many students entering or returning to campus did not have the tools they would need to succeed. Sadly, some didn’t have support on campus; others didn’t make time for recovery.
I saw with my own eyes how important it was to be prepared and plan ahead.
Transitions create stress for everyone
To help you create the most healthy, successful college experience possible, I am sharing seven tips with you today to help you handle any stressors that might come your way:
- Identify possible treatment options.
Conduct some research on eating disorder and mental health treatment options that will be available to you. Nearly every college now offers university health and counseling centers and many offer treatment for eating disorders. Call the college counseling center to see if they have an eating disorders treatment team or someone who works with eating disorders; go ahead and make an appointment early! This will allow you to develop a relationship with a provider early on — or to make alternative arrangements early if they don’t offer services.
- Look into Disability Services.
Did you know that those struggling with mental health issues or physical health issues qualify for Disability Services? Consider registering with the Disability Services center on campus. Many students fail to register here for fear of stigma; however, Disability Services can provide many services to students — and you can choose when and how you use them. This service is confidential and is not attached to your academic record. You might register and never need to use the services, but you may benefit from receiving services at some point in time. My suggestion is to register early, because you may want to use accommodations at some point — and if you register late in the semester there may not be time to receive accommodations.
- Seek out supportive peers.
Look for an eating disorders education and prevention group, a healthy outlook peer educators group, or something similar on campus. These groups can help you focus on eating disorder recovery in college, find a supportive, knowledgeable peer network and engage in prevention work, if you feel you are ready.
- Don’t over commit.
You may be tempted to get involved with everything, but don’t! Choose one or two things that you feel passionate about and get involved with those. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed with multiple commitments when your academic work becomes challenging.
- Remember your most important values.
Know what you value most and incorporate these values into your schedule. If family connection is important to you, put family time in your schedule (e.g., Skype or Face Time calls, going home once a month, etc.). If community service is important to you, get involved with a service organization on campus. If work is important, look at finding a campus job where the importance of academic deadlines will be understood. Bottom line, consider your values and plan your schedule with them in mind! I often worked with students who were under extreme levels of stress simply because values other than academics weren’t being incorporated into their schedules.
Include time each day to practice mindfulness and relaxation and make sure you are getting quality sleep and eating regular meals. In working with thousands of students, I noticed that these important wellness practices were often left off of schedules and therefore abandoned by many students. Remember that in order to function fully academically and socially, you need to be well rested, nourished, and emotionally prepared!
- Ask for help.
You are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Silence is easy, but asking for help is a sign of strength! Expect and accept that old methods of coping may resurface and make plans to respond accordingly. Find the people and resources you need to make it through without falling into old, ineffective patterns.
Change is hard and old methods of coping can resurface if you don’t plan for additional ways to cope with stress. But, if you practice these tips above, I have a feeling that you’ll be able to start your new academic year with all of the tools that you need to be successful.
Don’t wait until it's too late
If you find that your campus doesn’t provide some of the above resources for you, please have them get in touch with me via email. I can provide them with the resources they need to create an eating disorders treatment team or at the very least, I can help by providing referrals.
Casey N. Tallent, Ph.D. is the National Collegiate Outreach Director for Eating Recovery Center.