College Life & Summer Vacations: How To Remain in Eating Disorder Recovery

Article Contributed by:
Marty Lerner, Ph.D.
CEO, Milestones In Recovery, Inc

Awesome_SummerAnyone who has any experience with doing battle with an eating disorder knows the challenge of wrestling with their “demons” and regaining control of their lives. I can’t think of any time more difficult than free time from work or school, aka summer vacation. This is when most of us can find ourselves even more focused on body image and hear our ED talking loudest to us.

What does one do to not fall prey to a relapse? Here are just a few suggestions or guidelines to protect your recovery during summer vacation, spring break, or whenever “life happens.”

    • Have a food plan that you can live with.

I am inclined to advocate a food plan that includes all the major food groups, is a collaborative effort between yourself and an experienced dietitian, stays clear of “trigger foods,” and generally avoids highly processed junk foods.

    • Make certain you keep a reasonable schedule of eating.

In other words, don’t go more than a few hours without nourishing your body with a healthy snack [e.g. fruit, protein, etc.] between meals. And, of course, don’t skip meals.

    • Be careful to get enough sleep and find a balance between work and play.

Research repeatedly shows people who do not get enough sleep tend to associate eating [in the absence of hunger] with combating fatigue or sleepiness. Conversely, some people may have the opposite reaction and experience increased levels of nervousness and react by “not being able to eat.”

Either way, insufficient rest will play havoc with the regulation of appetite.

    • Be flexible. Learn to adapt to change.

Things happen, flights get delayed, weather doesn’t cooperate, and people are not always reliable. Having an alternate plan of action will help. Put into practice ways in which you’ve learned to cope with stress and negative emotions.

Breathe, make a phone call to someone in your support network, take a walk. You may not have direct control over how you feel or what thoughts pop in your head – but you can control how you respond.

    • Find time to exercise on a regular basis.

Most people with an ED history tend to be “all or none”, feast or famine” types. That said moderate, healthy, physical activity is an important element for maintaining ED recovery. Note the word “moderate.”

Knowing the difference between exercise in the service of furthering good health and recovery as opposed to “feeding the disease” is important. Along with a healthy food plan, it may be best to consult with a dietitian or professional to make sure your exercise plan is as sound as your food plan. Avoid doing too much or too little in this area.

    • Find and attend an ED or relevant support group.

Being around other people in recovery can be really helpful. For one thing, having “recovery relationships” can be an insurance policy against relapse by having a “go to” person or persons when dealing with urges or thoughts about binge eating, purging, restricting, or whatever your inclined to be vulnerable to.

    • Have fun.

The whole purpose of recovery is to get a life and not be your life. After all, your eating disorder is or has been a full time, 24 hour, 7 day a week “job”. Vacation means leaving it behind but also not forgetting the part time job of maintaining and protecting your recovery.

Do Healthy Things That Work For You


To be sure, the above suggestions are only a partial list of potential things you can do to keep your recovery intact. One way to remember a few of the guidelines is to use the acronym – S.E.R.F. The letters stand for Spirituality, Exercise, Rest, and a Food Plan. In my experience, these four elements are the foundation from which recovery is built and relapse avoided.

Give some thought as to what you can add to the list to keep you from sliding backwards. The saying – “an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure” certainly applies here. If you would like more information about relapse prevention or some of the ideas suggested, feel free to contact me at mlerner@MilestonesProgram.Org