10 Tips for Navigating Recovery in College

College is a big transition- new classes, new people, and more freedom than ever before. You may even be living away from home for the first time or navigating a harder course load. Despite the exciting opportunities, friends, and fun that also come with college- it can still be a really hard transition- especially for those in eating disorder recovery. Kaylee Parrish, founder of The Hope Project, and I have teamed up to give you our best tips for navigating recovery in college. Here they are:

Take advantage of campus counseling services

Many college campuses have a mental health center with free or low-cost counseling options. If you’re in recovery definitely first try to find a local ED therapist/specialist, but if you’re attending school in a smaller area (or have tricky insurance) that may not be super accessible. Usually college counselors see all sorts of students with different backgrounds and mental health histories/concerns, though, so campus counseling is a convenient and affordable way to have support. Be sure to ask about support groups that are on or off campus as well. They may offer one or be able to point you in the right direction. However, with the pandemic, your college campus may not continue to offer in person services- so look into an over the phone service! 

Keep a journal 

This will help you write down some things you are feeling and make a plan on how you can improve it! Have some prompts, talk about your day, how you are feeling, things in life that make you happy/sad, etc.- anything that helps you feel centered and allows you to reflect. If you need help getting started, I have two journals on my blog that are 100% FREE to download (no email or anything required)! Check out the recovery one here or the anxiety journal here.

Consider a college contract 

It may seem weird, controlling, or even offensive at first- but recovery contacts can be really valuable tools. Having your recovery goals and expectations down on paper is helpful because it not only serves as accountability, but also lets you (and your parents/guardians/support system) know that you’re dedicated and that if you begin to relapse, they have an OK to step in and help you. Eating disorders are sneaky- they thrive off of secrecy- so a contract puts it all on the table and allows for healthy, open communication, and a sense of security on all sides. 

P.S. What’s in the contract will be unique to you. A few things that were on mine included that I was agreeing to follow my meal plan, go to all appointments, and not go to the gym more than a certain amount of times per week.

Identify your red flags ahead of time

This can kind of go along with the contract. If you and your support system know the warning signs to look out for, slips/relapses can be caught and addressed sooner. Write out a list of things and behaviors that are a sign you’re struggling with ED and discuss them with a parent, therapist, or someone you trust. 

Keep snacks/food with you 

Sometimes you can get so busy that you forget to nourish your body. Keep snacks with you at all times so you always have a quick bite to eat with you! Snacks also help when there is an unavoidable snag in your plans- maybe a long line in the dining hall or wait at dinner. 

Take care of yourself 

College is stressful, and sometimes you feel like you have to go non-stop, but you DON’T. Overworking yourself will diminish your mental health. Take a break and take time for yourself daily, even if it’s just for 30 minutes! An entire list of self-care activities can be found here

Remember that you are not your illness 

You don’t have to share your eating disorder story with everyone if you don’t feel comfortable in doing so. Your eating disorder does not define you! Find things you love and start doing them… your eating disorder is not the only “interesting” thing about you! Example: try out painting! There are tons of things to try, do, and see at college. Obviously the pandemic makes this harder, but try a virtual org or find inspiration for a new hobby online! 

Have a study group or partner

It takes so much stress off of you when you aren’t doing things on your own! Find someone to study with, even if it’s a tutor. Be sure to also take advantage of study tools like Quizlet, Grammarly, and Khan Academy. Academic stress isn’t avoidable, but it can be managed with these ideas.

Call home

Call your parents, your friends, your partner, your sibling- keep in contact with people who love and support you. College is hard and- especially during a pandemic- the first few weeks can be a little lonely. You aren’t “lame” or not “thriving” if you miss home or miss your friends/partner- it’s totally normal! Calling home can also allow you to touch base about your recovery and if you need any extra support or accountability. 

Take it slow

College is overwhelming- in both good and not-so-good ways. Resist the urge to be “perfect,” get into all the orgs, have a job, meet the best group of friends, and have the cutest room right away when you get there. This isn’t about limiting you and your goals- chase your dreams- but don’t destroy your mental and physical health getting there. Nobody, not even the student answering everything correctly in the first row or the brand new sorority girl, has it all figured out. Take a breath and make sure you’re not overextending yourself.

Hopefully these tips help you or your loved one attend college while maintaining recovery! Don’t forget to leave a comment on your favorite tip or something that’s helped you. As always, resources are under the “resources” tab and a big THANK YOU to Kaylee Parrish for collaborating on this.

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.


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