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Student Life & Treatment: How Can You Stay in School and Get Treatment for Your Eating Disorder?

Article Contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Eating Disorder Hope

EatingDisorderRecoveryMaking the decision to proceed with your plans for attending college amidst recovery for an eating disorder can be complicated.

Many individuals work diligently and tirelessly to make college a reality, and eating disorders can abruptly interfere with these goals and dreams.

Is it possible to both attend college while receiving treatment for an eating disorder?

Talk to a Health Care Professional

This is a question that should be addressed and assessed by a professional treatment team, as many factors will influence the answer to this question. There are varying levels of treatment, from acute treatment to residential care to outpatient support, and finding the appropriate level of treatment is best determined by health care professionals who specialize in the care of eating disorders.

What factors will be considered to determine if an individual is well enough to attend school? While this will vary from person to person, these are some of the issues health professionals will consider in their assessment:

  • Physical Symptoms: What symptoms resulting from the eating disorder are present? Is there active and consistent engagement in eating disorder behaviors, such as bingeing and purging, restricting, compulsive exercising, etc.? Are acute symptoms adequately managed and under control? Is there sufficient weight restoration, if applicable? Is the individual able to follow a meal plan and sustain a sensible diet? While not exclusive, these are some of the factors that health professionals will assess.
  • Emotional Sufficiency: An important marker of eating disorder recovery is the ability for an individual to regulate their emotions and appropriately deal with triggers. While this process is something that is ongoing in the recovery journey from an eating disorder, it is necessary to be able to execute this to a certain degree. The college years will bring about many external triggers, and it is essential to know how to healthily cope through any such issues that may arise.
  • Coexisting medical or psychological disorders: Are other disorders present, in addition to the eating disorder? In complex situations, it is critical that each health issue is being addressed and treated, whether it is a co-occurring drug addiction, depression, anxiety, etc.

While there are not any clearly defined markers that identify where a person might be in their recovery journey, these factors are helpful in determining what level of support an individual might need to make necessary transitions in their life. Whether you are looking to attend college for the first time or if you are deciding if you are ready to return, it is important to collaborate with your trusted health professionals to determine this before making the choice to go to college.

Different Levels of Treatment Available

Levels of treatment that can typically be completed while at the collegiate level of education include outpatient therapy and support groups. These stages of treatment are less acute compared to other levels of care, and there is greater flexibility in arranging sessions around a school/work schedule.

A person is generally ready for these levels of care when they are:

  1. Medically stable from the eating disorder and not needing frequent supervision
  2. Psychiatrically stable enough to implement sufficient control that allows them to function in normal social, professional, and educational settings.

College Years Can Be Some of Your Best Years

The college years are often looked at with great hope and aspiration for the future. Many students experience some of the best memories of their lives while achieving goals that lay a successful foundation for their futures. While these dreams are attainable for any woman or man pursuing a college career, it is important to assess your readiness for this journey if you are in recovery from an eating disorder.

In the same way a caterpillar could stunt its life if erupting too soon from its cocoon, your eating disorder recovery could be at risk if you decide to enter college prematurely. Taking the necessary time to heal and strengthen yourself will only ensure that you are ready to productively enjoy your college years. As you regain your life and freedom, you will find that you can flourish through each season of life, through your college years and beyond.

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