Eating Disorder Coaching: A Secret Weapon for Sustaining Recovery During College

By Travis Stewart, LPC, Recovery Coach

6175811463_349f1157de_zLeaving for college, like few other life experiences, brings up a variety of emotions; excitement and fear, hope and dread, longing and loneliness. For these reasons, as well as increased pressure socially, academically and spiritually, going to college can be a contributing factor to developing an eating disorder.

College Students Are At Higher Risk of Developing an Eating Disorder

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that 86% of eating disorders develop in the age range associated with college and some studies suggest that as many as 20% of college-aged women may have an eating disorder.

For someone already struggling with an eating disorder this sudden onrush of emotions can result in a tsunami of urges and triggers. On top of that, college students attending school away from home will also be looking for a new therapist, dietitian and medical team. It would be great if someone could help them through the process.

How Recovery Coaching Can Help

Recovery coaching is a little known resource that can be a powerful tool to help those in recovery as they begin classes in the fall.

Though recovery coaching is a relatively new concept in the field of treating eating disorders it is quickly growing due to the ability of a coach to assist a client through the use of technology – conducting coaching sessions over the phone, through video conferencing and offering support through email and text. All of these are ideal resources for a college student who is away from home and struggling.

But what exactly does a recovery coach do?

A Focus on the Present

One of the primary differences between counseling and coaching is the focus on the present. Historically, psychologists and therapists focus on identifying the pathology of a patient; meaning that they look for what is wrong, how your past contributed to the problems and focus on healing it.

Recovery coaches, on the other hand, focus on the here-and-now and your goals for recovery. When working with a coach you may talk about your past, but only to provide some context to your goals and help the coach understand your patterns that you want to change. Then a coach will help with identifying specific goals for your recovery and developing strategies to reach those goals.

A Focus on Strengths

As with Life Coaching, a Recovery Coach will help you identify your strengths. We believe understanding and affirming your particular strengths is one of the healthiest things you can do for your recovery. Many clients have told me, “My eating disorder took up so much of my time I don’t really know who I am.” Coaching helps correct that.

A good recovery coach is going to lead you through identity development and help you explore likes and dislikes, strengths and weakness and gaining a sense of purpose for the future. Recently one of my clients said to me, “It’s so nice to talk about my strengths for a change!”

A Focus on Support

Another service provided by many coaches is support for urges, and encouragement, when you do slip. My clients have the freedom to text me when they have urges to binge, purge, restrict, self-harm or use other behaviors. Many coaches allow their clients to do this and will provide in-the-moment coaching on handling those urges.

Recovery coaches are generally people who love to teach and provide resources to their clients. Some have material you can purchase and listen to or regular blogs on managing urges.

Providing Accountability

A good recovery coach will hold you accountable to attend appointments you have with your therapist, dietitian and doctors. They may do this during weekly phone calls or through regular check-in forms like this online form I provide for my clients. A recovery coach will be a team player who supports your recovery and is willing to work with your treatment team.

Hands-on Help

Finally, if you have a local coach you can set up challenges or supportive outings such as meeting a coach for lunch, working out together, or going clothes shopping. Coaches love to provide hand-on support for their clients.

All of these coaching services can provide critical support for college students who are taking the next steps of putting recovery into action.

To learn more about Recovery Coaching visit Recovery Coaches International at