Eating Disorders In College Students

With the many new experiences that come with the college years, it is easy to see how a college student in recovery can put their efforts on the backburner.

Time is one of the most valuable resources for college students, and unfortunately, this can become limited quite quickly in light of the many scheduling demands students experience.

In fact, many college students struggle with overloaded schedules, including academics, work or a job outside of school, new relationships and a social life, athletics, clubs, Greek life, and an assortment of various activities that are offered to students.

Keeping Recovery a Priority

While it is easy to push off priorities needed to help maintain eating disorder recovery efforts, it is crucial to structure college life and a schedule to help support and uphold the recovery journey from an eating disorder.

It is easy to be “busy”, but this is not always beneficial, especially for a student who has previously struggled with an eating disorder. The reality is that these psychiatric illnesses can be fatal and can potentially hinder a college student from reaching their full potential in life in recovery efforts are not upheld and maintained.

This doesn’t mean that college students in recovery have to limited themselves or be prevented from doing things that they may be aspiring to. It simply means that one should take caution and structure their college schedule mindfully and in a way that allows for the maintaining of recovery efforts.

It is important first to understand what aspects of recovery are not negotiable. For example, it may be a critical part of ongoing recovery to see a therapist on a weekly or monthly basis or have consistent follow ups with a psychiatric to check in on medication management. Whatever this might be, identifying the aspects of recovery that are necessary for maintaining first can help a college student better structure their schedule.

Looking for help through your university? View our University Campus Student Services Directory.

Supporting Eating Disorder Recovery in College

Other aspects a college student may want to consider to help support their recovery efforts includes spacing out classes, slowly reintegrating extracurricular activities, and proactively choosing to participate in things that are positive and uphold principles and values.

The college years can be the most memorable as well as effectively contribute to eating disorder recovery is approached with the recovery journey in mind.

5 Tips for Seeking Eating Disorder Recovery Help

Here are 5 tips for seeking eating disorder treatment while in college:

Reach Out for Eating Disorder Treatment

Just as an individual with a dietary restriction might reach out to the dining hall, you have the right to reach out to the mental health office at your college to ask for support.

Many college students, 8% to 17%, report struggling with an eating disorder [1].

As a result, many college campuses provide mental health services and may even have specific mental health professionals that specialize in eating disorders.

Reach out to your academic advisor or school counselor to learn what resources are available to you.

Go Off-Campus

If your college doesn’t have the resources and support you need, search for local dietitians, therapists, eating disorder therapists, or primary care doctors off campus.

Don’t adjust what you feel you need to fit the services your college provides. Instead, find the services and support that fit you.

Know Your Limits

College is a time that can go from “no work” to “swamped” very quickly.

We can’t help what assignments your professors will assign, but you can adjust your schedule in a way that is appropriate for you.

If you need to take 4 classes instead of 5, there is no shame in that, especially if you need to prioritize that time to engage in treatment.

Negative emotions are a huge trigger for disordered eating behaviors, and stress is absolutely one of these.

Reduce the potential of feeling like you’re in over your head.

Avoid asking yourself what course load everyone else has or to what clubs everyone is going. Instead, remain focused on what you can handle while working toward and maintaining recovery.

Advocate for Yourself While in Eating Disorder Treatment

As you search for the treatment option that is right for you, it is important that you work diligently to advocate for yourself. Keep your support system and treatment team in the loop by being open and honest about your experiences and needs.

It is impossible for even the most seasoned of eating disorder clinicians to know what you are thinking or feeling. After all, they are not mind readers. So, don’t be afraid to speak up boldly as you learn how to incorporate treatment into your college life and routines.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to talk to your professors. They may seem intimidating, but many of them are absolutely open to adjusting due-dates or course requirements to suit your mental health needs.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

This is true whether you’re struggling with an eating disorder or not. It isn’t only your treatment team that needs to be 100% there for you and your recovery.

College can be a time of immense social pressure and, sometimes, we get caught up in that and behave in ways we normally wouldn’t.

Surround yourself with people that don’t make you feel that pressure. Those that allow you to be your authentic self and that not only let your unique and irreplaceable light shine but amplify it.


[1] Eisenberg, D. et al. (2011). Eating disorder symptoms among college students: prevalence, persistence, correlates, and treatment-seeking. Journal of American College Health, 59:8.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.

Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on 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 October 10, 2019, on
Reviewed & Approved on October 10, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC