Addressing Back-to-School Triggers in Recovery

Back to school shopping triggers

Contributor: Courtney Howard, B.A., Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.

Kicking off a new school year can be exciting, especially when you go into it with a positive attitude.  There are plenty of potential school-related triggers as you walk through those doors on the first day, but being aware of these triggers and arming yourself with coping tools can prevent them from adversely affecting your recovery.

Back-to-School Shopping, A Trigger

Shopping for a new outfit to wear on your first day of school is often something that students of all ages look forward to each year. However, if you are in recovery from an eating disorder, this might be a bit more complicated.

It is not necessary to dread back-to-school shopping, or clothes shopping in general, even if you are in recovery. It is understandable that the sizes or the way clothes fit may be a trigger, but the key is using the coping tools you have learned and reframing any negative self-talk. It can also be helpful to bring a friend or family member along for moral support!

Focusing on finding clothes that fit your body, are comfortable, and express your own personal style can be more empowering than any temporary validation you got in the past from the number on the inside label.

As a last resort, if you are struggling with the trigger of extreme body image issues, you might want to skip back-to-school shopping at this time. Avoidance is not generally recommended, but there is also no need intentionally put yourself in a position that might set you back in your recovery process. Check in and be honest with yourself to determine the best course of action.

Stress from Schoolwork

Girl homework triggersDepending on your course load, you have probably felt overwhelmed by schoolwork and related demands at some point. This is likely to happen from time to time, even if you take measures to ensure you are not overextended.

A 2009 survey [1] conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that approximately 45 percent of all teenagers reported feeling stressed by pressure from school. If you have struggled with disordered eating in the past, it can be easy to fall back into these patterns when facing intense pressure or anxiety related to schoolwork. This is why it is important to continue seeing your outside treatment team on a regular basis.

Coping skills can be helpful, as can hobbies and engaging in social events that are good for your mental health. When school becomes too demanding, you might be tempted to put all of your time and energy into it though what can really help is finding a healthy balance.

Relationships & Social Events

Reconnecting with old friends now that school is back in session can be so beneficial to your recovery as you catch up and form bonds with your peers. On the other hand, it can also be triggering if your body has changed in recovery and you are self-conscious about how others will react. Similarly, comparing yourself to others is common with eating disorders and might still be an issue in your recovery.

If you are concerned about these triggers or recognize them as they are happening to you, acknowledge that the voice in your head telling you that you are not good enough or should somehow be ashamed of your new shape is your eating disorder talking. School is hard enough without beating yourself up. Try to enjoy your friends and reframe negative thoughts you are having about your body image.

Practicing self-acceptance in this way can change your outlook as you come into the school year. This will also allow you to be fully present by eating a hotdog at the high school football game or dancing the night away at homecoming without being concerned about the way others view your body or your actions.

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Girl sitting below treesThe temptation to stay in your comfort zone can be strong. If this is necessary for you right now in your recovery, that is understandable. However, pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone and experience new things as the school year starts can be beneficial to your recovery and overall mental wellness.

Being adventurous does not have to include anything food-related, particularly if you are fresh into recovery and struggling with triggers.

You can start small, by joining a new club in which you don’t know anyone or trying out for the spring musical. Do something that challenges you, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Of course, this should be done with discretion during all stages of recovery, but taking a leap of faith and trying something new can open you up to new people and experiences. Some of these experiences will be good and some might be bad, but there is so much waiting outside of your comfort zone as you kick off the new school year.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How are you planning to cope with back-to-school triggers? What has worked for you in the past?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.



[1]:   (2009). “Stress in America.” American Psychological Association, retrieved online August 23, 2016.

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 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 30, 2016
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