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Maintaing eating disorder recovery while in college can be particularly challenging. In this week’s blog post, Clementine Portland Student Intern Erin Holl discusses these challenges and some strategies in how to manage them. 

Eating disorders affect people of all ages and from all walks of life, but are particularly prominent among students in college. College can be an exciting time of newly-found independence and self-exploration, it may also be a time of significant stress and vulnerability. In the interest of recovery maintenance, hope for making the transition into college should be accompanied by identifying and safety planning around the challenges of this environment. The following are three challenges facing college students maintaining recovery from an eating disorder:

Relocation and Roommates

Beginning college often means a new place of living. Relocating housing is stressful at any point in life, but particularly so when that move includes changing regions, leaving family and familiarity, and taking on new roommates. Leaving the familiarity of home can also mean leaving an existing support structure. When relocating to a new region, it is important to proactively establish a new supportive community of friends and professionals. Though some are fortunate enough to find friendships amongst new roommates, these individuals are not always positive influences on recovery maintenance. Living in close proximity to individuals with disordered eating patterns can be a challenge, though one minimized by awareness and planning.

Competitive Environment

The acutely competitive nature of the college environment is no secret. In this culture students are encouraged to test their limits in order to academically achieve at the highest level. Further, the achievements of one student are frequently compared to the efforts of others rather than previous personal achievements. This cultural norm of comparing self to others and forgoing a balanced life in the pursuit of achievement in one area can be a particularly insidious challenge for students maintaining recovery from an eating disorder. Students in such an environment could benefit from intentionally planning for and cultivating balance between work and self-care as well as identifying personal goals and values around achievement. Additionally, students may find that practicing transparency with professors and advocating for alternative educational needs can create a more hospitable academic environment.

Inconsistent Structure and Schedules

Between course schedules shifting every few months, occasional extended breaks, and the increased workload around midterms and finals, college living provides little of the consistency in structure that is important for students maintaining recovery. This lack of structure often results in increased demands for accountability from the individual, particularly in regards to practicing self-care, engaging in appropriate levels of movement, and planning regular meals and snacks. Students may create increased structure by mindfully assessing their individual needs as well as generating and implementing realistic schedules that support sustained wellness. Furthermore, students who initiate participation in regular check-ins with primary support persons minimize the potential for isolation in their increased personal accountability.

The challenges facing students maintaining recovery from an eating disorder during the transition into college can be significant, but are largely able to be mitigated by proactive planning and accessing available supports. The three challenges noted here only begin to address what students can expect to encounter in this period of high stress. Engaging in party culture and risky behaviors, limited funds to provide for basic needs, and social media-driven socialization are just a few of the other obstacles that may present to students pursuing higher education. Fortunately, clinicians have the ability to aid clients in preparing for the college experience with the appropriate knowledge and skills that will support recovery maintenance.


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