Identifying Eating Disorder Red Flags in Your College Students

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Becky Henry, a coach for parents of kids with eating disorders, and Kathleen MacDonald of the Eating Disorders Coalition identify potential red flag warning signs that your college student might be developing an eating disorder. Becky and Kathleen bring over 30 years of combined personal and professional experience in the field of eating disorders, as: parent & coach and someone who suffered an eating disorder while in college, is now recovery & previous policy director.


Most college students, have been primed on how not to gain the “fresh man 15.” But likely haven’t been primed on just how dangerous trying to avoid gaining weight as a freshman can be. If you are reading this article you likely have some concerns about your college student’s health. We want to help you feel capable of helping your child, and give you motivation to take action if you notice any of the following “red flags”:

  • Isolating from friends and family, or events
  • Dieting and/or skipping meals
  • Cutting
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • More prominent or obsessive exercising
  • Becoming very secretive and irritable, especially about food or meals
  • When your child comes home for their 1st break (ie: fall, winter), you notice a change in weight that you haven’t noticed before (this could be a gain or loss)
  • Abrasion on knuckles (a result of self-induced vomiting)
  • Use of laxatives, diet pills/diuretics, self-induced vomiting, enemas
  • Trips to the bathroom during, or immediately following, meals
  • Increasing criticism of their body or the body’s of others
  • Increased talk about food, weight, calories, fat, etc.
  • Complaining of being cold (especially fingers and toes)
  • Increased consumption of diet soda or water
  • Increased perfectionism
  • Rules and rituals around food
  • Avoiding eating favorite foods
  • Discomfort in fitted clothes, wearing loose clothing

What happens if you see a few, or more, of these red flags? Your heart rate might have increased and your mind is racing with thoughts like, “Oh my gosh, does my child have an eating disorder?!”  We encourage you to take a deep breath. Many of the signs and symptoms we listed above can unfortunately be typical of a college student who is experimenting with behaviors that they witnessed on campus, and they might not indicate a full blown eating disorder. Still, these are very dangerous behaviors and signs, which need to be monitored closely, especially if your child is predisposed to developing an eating disorder.

How do you help?

You’re already doing the first right thing by reading recent articles from respected leaders in the eating disorders field. We encourage you to be careful of older, outdated, information on eating disorders, as there is a lot out there that is inaccurate and not based on current research. For example, in the past, the dieting that college students engage in to avoid the media-devised, “freshman 15” was seen as “a phase” and something all women did. Now we know that dieting can evolve quickly and be the precursor to developing an eating disorder.

Next, you want to talk with your loved one. Share your concerns and what you have noticed. Be direct and compassionate. Listen but do not let them brush off your concerns with classic phrases such as, “I’m fine!” or, “There’s nothing to worry about, just look at me!” Those phrases deserve further conversation, ask what they mean by that and tell them what you don’t think is “fine” about their behaviors, mood and symptoms.

Be mindful not to “kvetch” with your son or daughter about your weight-loss goals, body dissatisfaction and/or suggest dieting together. Too often these things are seen as a sign that, “See, if mom is doing it, then it must be OK. I must be fine.”

Then, you’ll want a plan in place for next steps if indeed you discover that your loved one is suffering from more than just a few unhealthy behaviors regarding their body, nourishment and the freshman 15. If you realize that the red flags you’ve noticed are signs of something more serious (trust your gut), then you need to get your student to an eating disorder professional ASAP. You can find great resources here and on our websites at www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org and www.eatingdisorderfamilysupport.com

During this process, remember that boundaries are a beautiful thing. Boundaries are not mean or uncaring, (though it may feel that way when you’re learning them). And sometimes boundaries include invoking “tough-love.” You may need to dig deep and find a strength you didn’t know you had, in order to set some tough love into place and help motivate your student to participate in seeking an evaluation and potentially stay home from school to attend treatment.

These are just a few tips for how to recognize an eating disorder and how to get help for your loved one if they are suffering.

The better informed you are, the better you can help your loved one.  

Remember that eating disorders are serious, but there is hope. People can and do recover and treatment works. There is a wide-range of treatment options available, including on college campuses, so please know you are not alone and there is help available.

Most of all we encourage you to remember that: If your loved one isn’t healthy enough to return to college, it’s OK –there is NO harm in taking time off for treatment.

Remember:

  • College will be there, waiting for you to pay tuition, when your loved one is healthy.
  • If your college student had cancer, a semester (or two, or five) off in order for them to receive chemotherapy wouldn’t likely cause you to think twice; in fact you’d likely view treatment as “urgent.”
  • A semester (or two, or five) off, in order for your loved one to get treatment for a dangerous and all-too-often deadly eating disorder, is just as urgent.
For more information about Clementine adolescent treatment programs, please call 855.900.2221, visit our websitesubscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Maintaining Recovery in College: Part Two

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Senior Director of East Coast Clinical Programming Dr. Melissa Coffin, PhD, CEDS continues our series on tips for women entering or returning to the collegiate environment after treatment. We hope these tips will assist you in navigating this transition and embolden you to truly enjoy your college experience.

Dr. Coffin has been a pivotal member of Monte Nido & Affiliates since 2008 and has extensive experience in the treatment of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and compulsive over-exercise. She has presented nationally on eating disorders, body image, food rules and self-care at conferences by the National Eating Disorder Association, the Binge Eating Disorder Association, and the International Association for Eating Disorder Professionals.

Embrace change. College is an exciting time in life and it is ripe with new opportunities. Be open and flexible to the changes that come with it even if it means trying something that you’ve never done before.
Be mindful. With all of the opportunities in college you have to pick and choose what is most important so you don’t spread yourself too thin. Be conscious around how you spend your time and what you commit to as that will shape your experience.
Engage in self-care. Make sure to schedule time in each day to relax and take care of yourself, even if it’s just for a short time. Having rest, sleep, and time to decompress regularly will help to keep your stress in check.
Stay connected. Not only will you be forming new relationships in school, you still have your family and friends at home. Use your resources to stay connected with old and new.
Ask for help. It’s OK to ask for help from family, friends, and professionals if you need it. There are those on campus that can help you with your mental health, medical health, academics, financial issues, social needs, career planning, et cetera. Reach out and ask for what you need. The counseling or health centers are usually good places to start.

 

For more information about Clementine adolescent treatment programs, please call 855.900.2221, visit our websitesubscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

To learn about summer programming at Clementine, please visit our website or reach out to an Admissions Specialist.


Maintaining Recovery in College

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Maintaining recovery in a collegiate environment can be a difficult road to navigate. At Clementine adolescent treatment programs, we understand there may be challenges, and feel that preparing for these challenges is an essential step in continued recovery. In order to support you in this journey, we have compiled tips on maintaining recovery in a college environment from our clinicians, dietitians, and alumnae.

Director of Nutrition Services Mary Dye, MPH, RD, CEDRD, LD/N provides this week’s tips. Previously, Mary worked in private practice with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders. Additionally, Mary held the position of primary dietician for New York University’s Student Health Center and was an integral member of the university’s eating disorder treatment team. We hope these tips will assist you, your loved one, or your clients in this journey and look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Schedule your snacks into your day and pack accordingly. For example, if you only have fifteen minutes between classes and the snack you prefer is yogurt and granola, be sure to pack it in an insulated bag so your food stays fresh during the earlier class.When choosing your classes, try to consider dining hall hours so it is open during your meal times. If you plan to visit the gym, do so with a friend in order to stay accountable and help yourself stick to time boundaries.

Join campus support groups.

Do not isolate during meals. Try to plan meals with a friend who is a positive nourishment role model.

Keep a week’s worth of snacks in your dorm. Stocking up on too many snacks can feel overwhelming, so try to stick with a variety of four or five snack combinations.

Limit caffeinated beverages to no more than one serving per day. Remember the only true way to increase your energy is through nourishing your body with food and getting restful sleep at night.

Continue to challenge yourself with foods that you made peace with while in treatment. Keep in mind that legalizing food is not checking off the “I tried it” box; instead, it is letting it remain a part of your diet on a longer-term basis until you can consume it without judgement.

For more information about Clementine adolescent treatment programs, please call 855.900.2221, visit our websitesubscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

To learn about summer programming at Clementine, please visit our website or reach out to an Admissions Specialist.