Nourished on Campus: How to Maintain Eating Disorder Recovery
So, it’s that time of year again...school is starting soon! With a new school year comes new opportunities, new beginnings, new classes, and maybe even a new home. Transitioning from relaxing summer days to a new routine and a new dorm/apartment can be overwhelming, to say the least. On top of all that, having to figure out how to build and maintain your support system for your eating disorder recovery might seem really challenging. If you’re reading this and thinking “I have no clue how I am going to manage my recovery while I am at school,” this blog post is for you.
In this post you will learn tips on how to plan ahead, where to find support services that are offered on most college campuses, and how to create healthy boundaries.
First things first, scope out what foods you have access to. Are you relying on unlimited buffet-style dining halls, pre-made meals, and microwave-friendly foods that you can whip up in your dorm room? Or do you have access to a full kitchen and plan on visiting the grocery store regularly? Maybe a mix of these options? Either way, planning ahead can help you save time, money, and energy.
Planning Meals ahead of time means different things to everybody, and is dependent on where you’re at in recovery. Make a game plan with your treatment team by identifying tools you can utilize while away at school. Would building a meal plan with your dietitian be helpful for you during this period of transition? Would it be helpful to have general guidelines to follow when making food choices? Would following the intuitive eating principles be the most helpful? Take some time to consider and discuss with your team what tools would work best for you as well as how you plan on utilizing them.
Get to know your dining halls
Planning ahead could look like scoping out the dining halls, making a list of ingredients to get at the grocery store, or stocking up on snacks and shelf-stable foods. Dining halls on college campuses usually have several stations where they make different types of cuisine to offer variety and to accommodate those with food allergies or intolerances. Additionally, there are usually stations that consistently offer the same foods, including salad bars, omelette stations, dessert tables, etc. Perhaps the abundance of options in the dining hall is overwhelming, especially when you are squeezing a meal in between classes or trying to enjoy a meal with friends.
A way to circumvent those anxious feelings is to go in with a plan. Getting to know what foods you have access to is a great first step. It is then imperative to listen to what your body tells you. What are you craving for in that moment? How hungry are you? What foods sound satisfying? Consider different textures, temperatures, and tastes to help you decide what you might be in the mood for.
It is equally important that you feel adequately nourished and satiated throughout the day. Trying to balance a full day of classes, extracurriculars, and studying is quite the challenge. Visiting the dining hall or preparing a meal for yourself might be the last thing you want to do. Rather than waiting until you are ravenously hungry to eat a meal, it might be helpful to pack snacks that you can munch on throughout the day. This might seem like a simple tip; however, carrying yummy food around with you requires you to think ahead, narrow your options, and carve out time in the day to nourish your body. If you haven’t already, be sure to download our Ultimate Dorm Room Grocery List.
Incorporating self-care into a new routine is a challenge for everybody, whether they are trying to heal their relationship with food or not. The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is no right or wrong way to take care of yourself.
2. Utilize your resources
Typically, college campuses have a student health center that offers standard healthcare to students, especially if they’re far away from home. Additionally, many campuses have a counseling center that offers several types of services, including individual therapy sessions, group counseling sessions, mindfulness/ meditation series, etc. While all of the services offered vary among campuses, take some time to explore what is offered on your campus. Try something new. Join clubs. Talk to your peers and professors. Ask for help. Create the space you need to build your support system and self-care routine.
3. Create Boundaries
Whenever we embark on a new journey, whether that be starting college or moving, we want to share it with the people around us. Making new friends and connecting with others is so important. But what if your new group of friends start talking about going on a diet? Or what if they decide to skip a meal before binge drinking? And what if they don’t know that you’re recovering from disordered eating and are working toward healing your relationship to food? I would imagine that confronting your new bffs about this might be terrifying. However, are you going to put your recovery on the back burner? How far are you willing to go to fit in? There is no cookie-cutter way to avoid diet talk for good, especially on college campuses. But there are strategies on how to swerve diet talk and create boundaries with those around you. We’ve listed out several ways to re-navigate diet talk in previous posts. Your response to swerving diet talk might be different depending on who you are talking to. There are several approaches you can take, including changing the subject, proposing a different activity to do with your friends, clean out your social media feed, or walking away - especially during really triggering moments. Just remember, it’s 100% okay to set boundaries with friends to prioritize your recovery, even if they don’t get it.
We hope you feel more prepared and armed with the tools to use as you approach this exciting time. By prioritizing your recovery, no matter how hard it can be, you are creating the space to explore other parts of yourself, ones that reflect your values and who you are. Transitions are hard, but you can do hard things.
We wish you the best of luck during this new school year. As always, please reach out to us if you need more support. We’re here to help!
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We're a group of non-diet, balance seeking, cupcake consuming, quinoa loving, registered dietitians.
By sharing our expertise, favorite tools and services, we want to help you heal your relationship with food and body and find your own balance amidst the diet culture chaos.