Student Life & Treatment: Eating Disorder Treatment While in School

College support groupMaking the decision to proceed with your plans for attending college amidst recovery for an eating disorder can be complicated because it can be difficult to receive treatment while in school.

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

In some situations, a student who is struggling with an eating disorder may be faced with the decision of whether or not college must be postponed to seek out eating disorder treatment.

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? Understanding the severity of an eating disorder is important in determining the type of treatment that may be needed for optimal chances for recovery. 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 with any such issues that may arise.
  • Coexisting medical or psychological disorders: Are other disorders present, in addition to the eating disorder? Is a person at risk for self-harm or in need of more supervision due to a medical or psychiatric complication? 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 While in School

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.

If a professional treatment team has determined that a student is in need of higher level of care, above what is provided in support groups or outpatient care, it is important to consider taking a temporary leave of absence from college in order to seek out appropriate eating disorder treatment.

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.

It may feel devastating to postpone college or take a leave of absence in order to seek out eating disorder treatment, but know that this is a significant step toward truly being able to thrive in life. Your life is dependent on your health and wellness, and making your care a priority, even about school, may be necessary to find full recovery.

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.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.

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.

Page Last Reviewed and Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 30, 2017
Published on, Eating Disorder Information Help & Resources