Going back to school can be both exciting and stressful. While school may present a few challenges relating to recovery for some folks, it also offers many helpful tools to maintain eating disorder recovery. Whether you are looking to begin or continue your eating disorder recovery journey at the beginning of the school year, it’s important to be prepared and have a plan to ensure you are well equipped to recover during this time.
Eating disorder recovery IS possible as a student and this blog post will outline different ways you can continue your recovery during this time. Recovery does not and should not stop because your routine is changing → this simply means we need to adapt! These tools are helpful for all types of students, whether you are an elementary/high school student or a college/university student.
Let’s explore how you can engage in your recovery journey while going back to school!
A reminder that these are general suggestions to give you ideas on how you can continue with recovery during school. This does NOT replace one on one support with a treatment team. We highly encourage you to speak to your dietitian and/or therapist to create a plan that meets your specific needs.
If you are a University/College student or an elementary/high school student, your daily/weekly routines will look very different from one another. Class schedules and routines can range from early morning to late evening for post-secondary students, while class times, lunch breaks and extracurriculars are consistent for folks in elementary and high school. All to say, going back to school will look different for everyone.
This means that recovery during school will require a lot of planning and adapting. Going from a rather chill or even hectic routine during your summer break, to class time, study time and extracurricular activities means that your nutrition plan will need to be adapted to fit your lifestyle for the semester. This may include scheduled meal and snack breaks as well as pre/during/post nutrition strategies to ensure your nutrition plan is met.
The goal is always to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to be safe and functional for school, while also, pursuing recovery. Your team wants nothing more than for you to attend school without the eating disorder getting in the way.
For some, the school environment is not the safest nor the most pleasant place in the world. This may be due to experiences with bullying, eating around others, time with peers and general stress related to performance expectations with grades.
Since you are at school and away from home, this means that you will need to pack enough food for the day, as food is not as easily accessible since you aren’t right next to your refrigerator or cupboards, and purchasing food may not always be an option. This can be stressful as it creates anxiety around packing the “right foods”, and eating enough throughout the day.
Going back to school means you will be surrounded by more than just your close friends or your family. This tends to result in a lot of “not enough” or “too much” language and narratives as you compare your food and your body to your peers → all of which are unhelpful to your recovery. Part of recovery is learning the skills to be around peers without comparing ourselves, or rather filtering these intrusive thoughts and reframing them to support you through recovery rather than having them act as a detriment.
Similar to what I mentioned before, going back to school can cause an increase in stress overall. Above the school environment, students experience academic pressure along with increased daily tasks, which result in challenges with time management. Managing school, studying, activities, work, friendships, etc. on top of nutrition plans and appointments can be stressful.
> Less rigid support
For some folks, going back to school means less direct and rigid support, meaning that no one is necessarily watching you and checking in on you consistently as they would when you were living at home full-time. This can be tempting for the eating disorder to come in and take control.
There are also many benefits to recovering during school such as having a regular, familiar routine and having a support system present (teachers and friends) present for most meals and snacks. We want to leverage these, amongst other strategies, so that you can stick to recovery and overcome your eating disorder (NEDA, 2022., The Emily Program, 2022., Central Coast Treatment Center, 2022)!
Here are ways you can continue with recovery during school:
Speak to your treatment team and find a way to stick to regular appointments with your therapist, doctor and dietitian to make sure you are well supported and move forward with your recovery. It may also be helpful to connect with your school counsellor, principal or teachers to see if any accommodations can be made to support you through full recovery!
Set some time aside every evening or at the beginning of the week to plan what, where and how you will be eating your meal. The goal is to make sure that you have what you need to eat what is on your meal plan or to nourish your body intuitively. Make sure you have the resources to keep the food fresh/consumable → for example, keeping an ice pack in your lunch box, or packing only shelf-stable foods, or making sure you have access to a microwave/heating appliance will be helpful to think about as you are planning your meals and snacks.
Keep foods like granola bars, dried fruit, apple sauce, goldfish crackers, candies etc. on hand in the event that you do forget to pack something, or something happens (ex: your bus is late, you are stuck in traffic, you forgot about your group project meeting after school), you have food available to keep going
As you prepare to go back to school, start keeping track of noticeable triggers for your ED behaviours and share this with your therapist and dietitian to create a plan on how to manage/cope with these triggers. New triggers may present themselves during school; that’s okay. Think of how the coping skills you have used for other triggers could be helpful for the new ones!
It’s okay for things to be overwhelming and stressful. What matters is that you keep moving forward in your recovery and find strategies that support life without the ED. Remember that it’s okay not to be perfect – that’s not the goal. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you move through this journey.
Eating disorders are tricky and they can present in many different ways. Sometimes, we may not realize it, but a particular behaviour may disguise itself into a new ED behaviour. The goal is not to micromanage and overthink everything you do, YOU can be trusted, but it’s important to recognize and be honest when you realize a behaviour is ED/restrictive in its intention.
For a more detailed overview of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders, check out my other blog post here!
> Here is a reminder of a few ED signs to look out for:
Managing recovery while going back to school is feasible and can offer many benefits to supporting full recovery! Remember to reach out to your treatment team for support and to develop a plan to ensure you are well equipped to continue through your recovery journey through school.
If you don’t have a treatment team or would like more support → we are here for you!
Written By Joelle Ciccarelli, RD
Revised by Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Founder of The Balanced Practice
The Balanced Practice is a team of health care providers specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment, disordered eating and intuitive eating. Our mission is to help folks heal their relationship with food and their bodies so they can live happily outside of diet culture!
We strive to provide evidence-based counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.
Central Coast Treatment Center. (2022).
The Emily Program. (2022). https://www.emilyprogram.com/blog/10-ways-to-stick-with-eating-disorder-recovery-in-school/
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