How to Choose an Eating Disorder Treatment Center: What is Best for My College Student?

Girl trying to find Eating Disorder Treatment Center for a College Student

Contributed by Whitney Owens, MA, RMHCI with Canopy Cove

Attending college and being a part of the world of academia can be an exciting time in a student’s life. But when suffering from an eating disorder, many students face challenges they cannot overcome on their own. So How do you find the best eating disorder treatment center for a college student?

In a culture that is primarily focused on performance and success, the temptation can be to ignore symptoms and push through without asking for help. However, ignoring eating disorder symptoms is dangerous and can become life-threatening.

People usually seek a residential treatment program when their physical or emotional health has become severely compromised. When parents and caretakers begin to investigate treatment options for their college students, there are several factors to consider:

Ambivalence and Resistance

While some students are open to entering treatment, others may express ambivalence or outright resistance. This is a common response as it typically takes time for the seriousness of the eating disorder to sink in.

There is also a high correlation between eating disorders and perfectionism [1]. Perfectionism has been described as a trait with inflexible and excessively high standards, an overly critical evaluation of one’s behavior, and a belief that one’s self-worth is contingent on perfect performance [2].

As a result, these perfectionistic tendencies can make it especially painful to take a leave of absence from school. When treatment is being considered, it is essential for families and friends to come together in agreement that physical and emotional health must take priority over academic performance.

Types of Treatment

Though the tendency can be to focus on food, eating disorders are not about food. Yes, physical nourishment and nutritional education are a part of the treatment process. But, simply focusing on issues of food and weight distracts from underlying issues that allow the eating disorder cycle to continue [3].

Some eating disorder treatment centers focus solely on symptom management and weight restoration or maintenance. This type of treatment limits the level of healing that can occur in the treatment process.

An eating disorder serves many purposes, such as a way to cope with poor self-esteem, providing a sense of control, and suppressing emotions [3]. When identified, these underlying issues bring further insight and awareness into the purpose and cycle of the eating disorder. However, awareness alone will not make someone well.

Canopy Cove Banner


Working with a qualified mental health professional allows clients to integrate awareness with understanding and empowers them to make necessary changes. When researching treatment options, look for a treatment center that is accredited and whose treatment team is comprised of licensed, credentialed, and qualified professionals.

Experiential Therapies

Some underlying emotions cannot be easily identified or processed in a traditional office-based psychotherapy setting. Knowing the personality of your loved one may help you choose a treatment option that includes other therapeutic approaches.

Experiential therapy, such as art, music, body movement, and equine-assisted psychotherapy enhance the treatment process. These therapies encourage clients to deal with challenging emotions in a non-traditional environment.

Memories or triggers can be identified and processed in a safe environment such as an art studio, doing gentle stretches on a yoga mat, or in nature spending time with horses. The creative and grounding nature of these activities help clients connect to themselves and learn to navigate difficult emotions without using eating disorder behaviors to cope.

Family Work

To give your college student the best chance to succeed in their recovery, including family therapy in their treatment process is a necessary step. There may be instances when family therapy is not an option for a client due to legal situations or other concerns.

However, dysfunctional systems within the family and relational issues often play a role in the development of the eating disorder. Identifying these struggles and moving together towards healing is a crucial part of treatment.

Length of Stay

College student study abroadMost treatment centers recommend at least a 30-day length of stay, but sometimes a treatment team may recommend additional time to allow a client adequate opportunity to process and heal. College students may be eager to return to their studies or social lives.

But, they cannot succeed in their aspirations until they have the tools they need to live without the eating disorder. Rushing the treatment process can have a detrimental effect on a client’s level of functioning after discharge [4].

Step Down Programs

While in a treatment environment, clients can focus solely on their healing and recovery and are removed from many pressures of daily life. When the client has completed the residential portion of their treatment, some life stressors are reintroduced in a step-down program called a partial hospitalization program (PHP).

A PHP program allows clients an in-between time to practice the skills and tools they have learned while in residential treatment. Clients attend the program for part of the day and live independently using the skills and tools they have learned throughout the rest of the day. This time allows for necessary practice so that any remaining or new issues which may arise from facing stressors may be addressed.

Recovery is Possible

Eating disorder recovery takes hard work. It is not a simple process, but it is an incredibly worthwhile process. Choosing recovery will allow your college student to experience healing, embrace themselves and their emotions, explore their true passions, and develop the tools that will help them live a healthy and fulfilled life.


[1] Claydon, E., & Zullig, K.J. (2019). Eating disorders and academic performance among college students. Journal of American College Health. Retrieved from

[2] Swider, B., Harari, D., Breidenthal, A.P., & Steed, L.B. (2018) The pros and cons of perfectionism, according to research. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

[3] Costin, C., & Grabb, G. S. Key 3: It’s not about the food. In 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder (pp. 63-86). New York, NY; London: W.W. Norton & Company.

[4] Elmquist, J., Shorey, R.C., Anderson, S., & Stuart, G.L. Eating Disorder Symptoms and Length of Stay in Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse: A Brief Report. Journal of Dual Diagnosis,11(3-4), 233-237. doi: 10.1080/15504263.2015.1104480.

About Our Sponsor:

Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center is a leading residential Eating Disorder Treatment Center with 25 years’ experience treating adults and teens who are seeking lasting recovery from Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and other related eating disorders.

We are a licensed rehabilitative provider accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. Trusted and recommended by doctors and therapists throughout the country, our program provides clients with clinical excellence and compassionate care.

As one of the most experienced Eating Disorder Centers in the nation, we’ve developed a highly effective program that incorporates solid evidence-based therapies which have been shown to increase recovery rates.

  • Each person we treat receives a customized treatment plan tailored to their specific needs.
  • We increase recovery rates by simultaneously treating co-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression. (We also accept clients with an Eating Disorder and co-existing Diabetes).
  • We provide family education and family therapy throughout the recovery process. (Offered by phone for out of town families).
    Our Christian-based eating disorder treatment program warmly accepts all clients from various belief systems.

Get help now. Call 855-338-8620.
[email protected]

About the Author:

Whitney Owens, MA, RMHCI

Whitney Owens HeadshotWhitney Owens is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern with the state of Florida. She has been working with eating disorders in residential treatment for over two years at Canopy Cove in Tallahassee, FL. Whitney works with groups, individuals, and conducts family therapy. She is an EAGALA certified equine therapist and does equine therapy with clients at Canopy Cove. Before working with eating disorders Whitney worked with trauma, sexual abuse, grief and loss, and spiritual issues. In her free time, she enjoys riding horses, reading, playing tennis, studying cultures and languages, and listening to music and watching films.

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 May 6, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on May 6, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Published on

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.