By Alex Raymond, RD,LD.
The time has come. In Maryland, this is the first week of school for many high/middle school students, while colleges have had their doors open for a few weeks. Many of my clients are actually pretty excited about heading back to school and getting into a different routine.
Let’s remember, returning to school is a transition, which may cause a shift in your recovery.
School is filled with various pressures and amounts of stress that may be nonexistent during the summer. Stress can trigger ED thoughts and behaviors, so creating a plan for yourself or your loved one can help you be prepared for this transition. Here are some ideas of what you may be able to discuss with your treatment team:
1. Scheduling appointments.
Make sure to discuss with your treatment team how often you are going to meet. Chances are you’ll want to keep up the consistency of appointments even during the school year, if not increase regularity. Yes, other commitments come up, like sports and school activities, and it’s also so important to make sure that recovery is the number one priority. It might be a good idea to have appointments on the books before school begins, especially if you are heading to college and transitioning teams. If you don’t yet have appointments scheduled, I would encourage you to reach out to your team *wink.* You may also want to ask your providers if they provide virtual counseling.
2. Meal times.
I recommend to take a look at your school schedule (or your loved ones schedule) to figure out when you can eat. Some questions you may want to keep in mind… When do I need to get up to have breakfast? What time is lunch, and do I need to take it with me to class (if you’re in college)? Are there commitments getting in the way of dinner and how can I work around that? How many snacks should I pack? Will activity be increasing in such a way that I need to increase my meal plan? You may want to think about going through these questions with your dietitian. It might even be helpful to physically write it down on your schedule.
3. Support groups.
Support groups can be a valuable resources for many of my clients. I think it’s important to find a space where you feel comfortable talking about your eating disorder to others who may have experienced similar things. We run a couple of groups in the Columbia area as well as a meal support group in Greenbelt, right near the University of Maryland. There are also college campuses that run support groups; I’d encourage you to reach out to either the health or counseling center for more information about these.
- I am also starting up virtual support groups for college students. The first one is a 6 week group that is starting up at the end of the month. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
4. Yellow/red flags.
Before either leaving for college or starting school, you may want to consider writing out a list of some of your ED’s warning signs with your treatment team. It may then be helpful to brainstorm what will happen if ED behaviors increase. For example, if behavior increase while you are away at school, is it a possibility for you to go home for the weekend? Or can your parents visit for some support? This can be a difficult conversation to have (of course, we all want to look at the positive and hope ED behaviors don’t increase!) and at the same time, it’s important to be prepared. Having a list of warning signs that not only you can look out for, but also your team and your loved ones, gives the ED less power.
5. Self care.
School is starting, so there may be less time for self care, and it’s still important! Yes, self care is massages, manicures, baths, the whole idea of treat yo’self…etc. Self care is also rest/sleep, watching TV, eating, spending time with friends/family…etc. With school, there is added stress, so finding ways to ~chill~ throughout the day/week will be crucial to your overall health! Even if it’s just making sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep or finding time to read before bed. Talk with your treatment team to brainstorm some ideas.
6. Ask Yourself: Is school right for me at this time?
Yes, going to school and getting an education is important. So is recovery. Mental and physical health must come first. As difficult as it can be to take a semester (or two) off from school, sometimes it is totally necessary to do so. You don’t want to go through your whole college experience miserable from battling an eating disorder. Putting recovery first and taking time to heal yourself may be exactly what you need to have a more positive college experience. Be sure to talk to your treatment team about what is right for you.
If you have any questions or concerns about the process of starting school while in recovery from an eating disorder, or about any of our support groups, email me at email@example.com