Eating Disorder Recovery & Meals in a College Cafeteria

If you have been fighting an eating disorder and living in recovery, you have likely experienced the many lows and highs that come along the journey. You have undoubtedly been putting great effort and time to keep the disease at bay by working diligently to regularly meet your therapist, following your meal plan, and practicing your therapeutic exercises. But, how will you stay healthy in college?

Taking the time to eat your meals and snacks, understanding and working through triggers, and staying accountable have likely become a regular part of your everyday life.

A Lifelong Commitment to Recovery

The recovery journey is difficult, even tedious at times as you strive to undo years of thoughts and behaviors that have become so deeply ingrained within you. Your life, however, has become dependent on the repetitious routine of carefully tending to your body, ensuring that you are taking the daily steps that keep you thriving and from falling back into the abyss of an eating disorder.

As time passes, you will become stronger, and the positive strives you are meticulously taking for yourself become more intuitive.

Protecting Yourself When Changes Come

As you transition through new phases in life, you will learn how to adapt to changes in ways that protect your recovery. If you are a college student making the transition to school, you will find that this is one of the most intense time periods to sustain recovery through, and it can be hard to stay healthy in college.

With a sudden conglomeration of changes, stressors, and new pressures, the recovery that you have worked so hard to maintain can feel tested.

One of the most essential aspects to maintaining your recovery is ensuring that you are adequately and consistently nourishing your body. Though it may seem insignificant, one missed meal or snack can become the catalyst for relapse.

Though you have likely been following a meal plan designated for you by a nutritionist, the new environment of a college campus and different availability of food can challenge the structure you have been so careful in following.

Many students may find that their new environment or surroundings may make it difficult to follow their meal plan. Students might be challenged with limited cooking space, fewer appliances for putting meals together, limited access to groceries, smaller variety of meal options and more.

Preoccupied, worried young male college student staring at computer trying to stay healthy in collegeParticularly for students who are living on campus and/or in dormitories, finding ways to prepare necessary meals and snacks can be challenging. In addition, students are often balancing an overloaded schedule with academics, work, career planning, sports, and/or a social life. This can also make it challenging for students in eating disorder recovery to eat consistently and nourish their bodies appropriately.

Anticipating some of these challenges can be helpful for planning ahead and coming up with an effective game plan to be sure that you are keeping your eating disorder recovery a priority while in college.

Find Help on Campus

Colleges and universities have taken steps to address eating disorders among students by offering access to mental health professionals, specialized treatment programs, educational programs, and peer support groups.
online therapy session

Steps to Take To Stay Healthy In College

Whether you are planning on eating your meals in the campus cafeteria, cooking for yourself, or a combination of both, there are several steps you can take to stay healthy in college and ensure the continued success of your recovery.

1. Plan Ahead:

If you will be eating your meals on campus, it’s important to realize that your food selection may be limited. Campus cafeterias will often have their menu published ahead of time, and this may be a helpful reference for you to know what is available.

Take the time to review your class schedule and plan for the week ahead. Will you have back to back classes that will leave you little time for eating at the cafeteria? Will you need to bring a lunch with you? With the business of college life crammed into a new schedule, it can be far too easy to miss a meal if you do not plan ahead.

Do not give your eating disorder a foothold over you. Your body needs fuel and nourishment to focus and thoroughly enjoy the many experiences that college can offer.

Making mealtimes a priority in your schedule is possible by planning ahead and mapping out your days and weeks.

2. Make time to shop:

Man with BED on beachTo stay healthy in college and stay consistent with your meal plan, it is essential that you have food available. Lack of food can translate into a reason for restricting, or missing a meal or snack can increase chances for binging later. Schedule a regular time to buy grocery essentials that you can have available, including food items that need little time for preparing.

Think about investing in a small dormitory refrigerator that you can keep in your room for keeping the necessities on hand. Even if you have regular access to the campus cafeteria, there may be times you are unable to make it for each meal.

Be prepared for these times by having food for making cohesive meals and snacks. Make sure you are allotting the time and resources needed to purchase the food supplies you need on a regular basis.

Aim for including the major macronutrients in each meal or snack, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, to build balance, variety, and satisfaction with your food choices.

3. Have a backup plan:

Being successful in your recovery from an eating disorder means being prepared for potential obstacles that you might face. What if you find a meal particularly challenging while away at college? What if you begin experiencing urges to act out in eating disorder behaviors once again?

It is important to have a backup plan for these instances and identify ways in which you can challenge thoughts and behaviors that are related to your eating disorder. What resources do you have available? Do you have a mentor or trusted friend you can call or text if you’re having a hard time getting through a meal?

Identify and build your support system before your transition to college to be best prepared for situations that test your recovery.
If you find yourself struggling or in a particularly challenging situation, having a network of accountability can help support you through the highs and lows you may inevitably encounter along the way.

4.  Aim for progress, not perfection:

Focus on the continued progress you are making in your recovery. Establishing yourself apart from your eating disorder while transitioning to college will be a journey that involves many ups and downs.

Girl hiking by a river to stay healthy in college

Things may not always go as you expected, but do not let that be reason to give up on your dedication to recovery. Even if you experience a setback that does not mean that you have failed. Research has shown that individuals in recovery do experience significant risk of relapse, which is influenced by many different variables [1]. However, this should be seen as part of the journey itself.

You can always ALWAYS pick yourself up and continue on towards recovery, whether that means committing to eating your next meal or snack, meeting with a mentor or accountability partner, or finding a support group. Every proactive step you take is progress and strengthening you against your eating disorder.

Your Endurance Is Admirable

and As you embark on one of the most exciting time periods of your life, realize that you have the ability to stay healthy in college stay strong in your recovery throughout your college experience.

By adequately preparing to keep your body nourished, you are establishing one of the key foundations to perseverance and endurance in recovery.


[1]: J. C. Carter, et al. Relapse in anorexia nervosa: a survival analysis. Psychological Medicine. Volume 34, Issue 3. Mary 2004, pp.671-679

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 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.

Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC on August 14, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 14, 2017.
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