Ten Tips for Choosing the Right College for Eating Disorder Recovery

College Students Vulnerable to Eating Disorders

The transition to college is a big adjustment made even more complicated for those struggling with disordered eating. During times of stress, like going to college, eating disorder thoughts and behaviors can return or intensify as a way to cope. Given this, it’s essential to consider ways of choosing the right college or university that will support your recovery and help you thrive.

Ten Tips for Choosing the Right College for Eating Disorder Recovery

1. Access to eating disorder treatment providers. At a minimum when choosing the right college and in order to maintain recovery, you should have access to eating disorder providers (counselors, physicians, dietitians, and/or psychiatrists who specialize in eating disorders).

If there are limitations to having off-campus providers (for example, access, transportation, availability, finances), a well-equipped college counseling center that has licensed counselors, physicians, psychiatrists, and dietitians is important.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • Are eating disorder trained providers available on campus? How do you get scheduled with a provider?
    •  Are crisis or walk-in appointments available?
    • Are there limits on the number of services or sessions (for example, it’s common for colleges or universities to limit students to about 6 to 8 therapy visits a year)?
    • Are psychiatrists available to help manage medications?
    • What kinds of therapies are offered (individual, group, or more intensive programs)?
    • Are there any eating disorder specific support groups on campus?
    • If you must go off-campus for treatment, will the college or university help connect you to these providers?
    • Is there a student health insurance plan to cover all or part of these costs?

Image of students choosing the right college for National Eating Disorder Awareness week2. Advocacy and recovery community. Having the presence of eating disorder advocacy and recovery communities on campus matters.

It helps reduce stigma and create a safe space to get the support needed to sustain recovery. It helps create a culture of accountability and responsibility to stay the course of recovery.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • Is there an overall presence of eating disorder advocacy on campus?
    • Do they support or participate in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week?
    • Are there eating disorder support groups on campus?
    • Are formal education and training on eating disorders for students or staff available?

3. Social support. It’s important that you have a strong social network in place on campus who can support you in your recovery.

Whether it is an on-campus eating disorder support group or a roommate who can support you with meals, having peers and professionals you can lean on for support is imperative.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • What supports, either formal or informal, are available on-campus?
    • What supports are available off-campus?
    • Who will be a part of my social support network when I’m at college?
    • How can they help me maintain recovery?

4. Food options. Eating on campus can pose its own challenges for those struggling with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. Often, foods that are readily available on campus are those that are convenient or judged as “bad foods.”

It’s important to recognize that all foods fit and to have strategies in place that will support your recovery and intuitive eating. When choosing the right college, select one with a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. That person can be an excellent resource.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • What dining options are on campus?
    • Do you have access to a variety of foods to support your recovery?
    • Can you store and prepare food in your room or dorm?
    • How will you meet your nutritional needs while at college?

5. Campus culture. Campus cultures can vary widely, and it’s important that when choosing the right college the school’s culture supports your values and eating disorder recovery. Some campus cultures, like highly-competitive or achievement-focused cultures, can amplify eating disorder thoughts or behaviors.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • As a whole, what is the campus culture like?
    • Is it highly competitive? Achievement-focused?
    • Are diet culture messages prominent?

 Two students talking about choosing the right college6. Campus living. Living with others who can support your recovery will be important. For example, if living on-campus, a resident advisor (RA) can support a recovery-affirming environment.

And, if possible, choosing a roommate who is steady in their own recovery or who can otherwise support your recovery (things like encouraging positive body image or intuitive eating are a couple of examples) can be helpful.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • Are RAs and peer advisors trained in eating disorder awareness and/or prevention?
    • How are RAs equipped to support students in recovery?
    • Are students able to select a roommate?
    • If so, what does this process look like and can recovery support be a selection factor?

7. Student-athlete support. Athletes are at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. If you are a student-athlete, the athletic environment needs to support your recovery.

It is also crucial when choosing the right college that your coaches are aware and educated about eating disorders and are supportive of your recovery.

Some good questions to ask are:

8. Self-care options. It’s important that you can envision ways to take care of yourself during college that have nothing to do with food or exercise.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • What self-care options does the college have (that are not food or exercise focused)?
    • How can you take care of yourself while on campus?
    • For example, are there meditation classes?
    • Volunteer opportunities?
    • Comfortable spaces to unwind and relax?

9. Supportive disability services. It’s important that a college or university is able to provide accommodations for any physical or psychological needs a student has.

Some examples include accommodations for medical or therapeutic appointments during school hours, release from physical education requirements, and ongoing communication with an eating disorder treatment team.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • Are special accommodations offered?
    • What is the process for receiving accommodations?

10. Consider inclusivity. It’s important to remember that eating disorders do not discriminate — eating disorders significantly impact people of all sexual orientations, genders, ages, body sizes and abilities, races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic statuses.

Often, those with intersectional identities who struggle with disordered eating are under-treated or go untreated altogether. Finding an inclusive college campus where you can feel safe, accepted, and at-home is important.

Some good questions to ask are:

    • Is your intersectional identity or group represented on campus?
    • How does the college support or advocate for marginalized people and their well-being?
    • If you belong to a marginalized group, are there safe spaces and groups on campus for you?

College students meeting about Starting College and the Risk of Eating DisordersBy considering these tips and asking these questions, you’ll be more likely to find a college that supports your recovery.

It’s important to know that in order to thrive in your recovery while away at college, you must first be in stable condition and able to manage your symptoms and recovery beforehand.

If you are not stable, eating disorder behaviors will likely increase along with the stress of the transition.

In preparation for the transition to college, it is wise to work closely with your treatment team to develop an individualized recovery plan that will support you during this life stage.

Do you need help now? Call a specialist at Eating Disorder Solutions: 1-855-783-2519

If you are not quite feeling ready to take on the stressful transition of college, it’s okay to take a gap year (or longer) to strengthen your recovery in preparation for starting college. Your physical, mental, and emotional well-being are far more important than any academic goals.


Sources:

1. Best Colleges. Understanding Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/eating-disorders/ on July 16, 2019

2. National Eating Disorder Association. COLLEGIATE SURVEY PROJECT. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/CollegeSurvey/CollegiateSurveyProject.pdf on July 16, 2019.


About the Author:

Chelsea Fielder-JenksChelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.

She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at ThriveCounselingAustin.com.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 26, 2019,  on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on July 26, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.