College Students & Eating Disorders: 6 Recovery Tips for the Summer
Late spring is here – and college campuses have quieted as students make their moves home for the summer. Goodbye textbooks, term papers and late nights of studying. Hello to old friends, summer jobs and quality time with family.
While summer break is embraced by many students, it can be quite challenging for others, especially the millions of college students with eating disorders. If adapting to dining halls, dorm life and navigating new social circles wasn’t enough, coming home can also be overwhelming for these individuals, especially if they’ve made great recovery strides over the past few months.
The good news: Summer break doesn’t mean you have to hit the reset button. In fact, it’s a unique opportunity to reflect, check in with yourself and develop older skills that you’ve already learned and learn new skills or tools that’ll push you forward even further. Here are some tips to make this transition a bit easier:
1) Reflect. Your whirlwind academic year likely had many ups and downs, especially in managing your eating disorder. Use this time to look back on the past year. What were your proudest moments? Where did you struggle most? Was the dining hall stressful for you? Who supported you the most? Reflecting on specific situations can help identify any required modifications to your recovery plan, whether it’s for the summer and/or planning ahead for your return to campus in a few months.
2) Stay vigilant. Your daily schedule and routines will inevitably change now that you’re back home. Sneaky disordered thoughts or unhelpful behaviors can often arise in these types of transitions, so be extra watchful and proactively identify them before they negatively impact you. If something causes concern, lean on your parents, family members or friends. These are people who likely know you incredibly well – and are in a rare position to notice potential signs of relapse that you might not recognize.
3) Remember where you came from. There have been plenty of individuals in recovery who say something like this – “I feel like I haven’t made any progress, what’s actually changed?” Think back to where you were this time last year, or even a month ago. What has changed? Are you more comfortable in social settings? Is there an increased sense of freedom in your choices? It’s easy for us to discount minor shifts throughout recovery, especially when they don’t feel like major accomplishments – and it can be hard to see our growth when we’re with ourselves daily! Give yourself credit for those minor steps and the progress you’ve made thus far. Nothing can take that away from you.
4) Check in with your team. Have you previously worked with outpatient or treatment providers close to home? Perhaps before you left for school? If so, definitely check in with them this summer. And if you feel it’s needed, it’s okay to re-enroll in programming, too. Share your reflections (see #1) of where you are in recovery. Be open to their thoughts and perspectives – they can help identify sources of continued growth and/or successes you may have overlooked. If you’re looking to find a treatment provider nearby, NEDA has a great resource.
Alternatively, if you’ve built a strong rapport with your near/on-campus treatment team, but are miles away, give them a call to see if they can do monthly Skype sessions or phone calls.
5) Consider a treatment “Bootcamp.” Maybe you’re hesitant to commit to a full-time program, yet are in need of a recovery “pick-me-up.” In this case, a treatment “boot camp” may be helpful. These are more short-term options, offered by many treatment centers, to help get you back on track if you’ve fallen a bit to the wayside. Remember, this does NOT mean starting over or that you failed. You already have the skills and capacity for change – a “treatment refresher” can sharpen those skills and boost confidence in your capacity for continued growth
6) Continue on your recovery path. While you may have a break from late nights of studying, eating disorder don’t take breaks – and you recovery shouldn’t either. Yes, it can be tiresome (see tip #2), especially if we have difficulty noticing progress (see tip #3). If, however, you’re noticing some old patterns sneaking back in, you can always find your way back to “recovery road.” Strengthen your recovery by trying new challenges or revisiting old ones. Voice any concerns to your treatment or support team (see tip #4). Your personal recovery path may seem rocky, or appear blocked in some cases, but you’ll always find a way to continue with a little help and a guiding hand.
Remember: There is no one magical plan for recovery. It can take time, and will likely continue on through the summer and your return to school. But by following these tips over the next few months, you’ll be in much better positon for the road ahead.
Looking for some guidance this summer? We’re always here to help you!
Amanda Kravitz, LCSW, is an adult clinician in the partial hospitalization (PHP) and intensive outpatient (IOP) programs in Braintree. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from SUNY Oswego and master’s degree in Social Work from Binghamton University. Amanda was previously a clinician for the adolescent PHP and IOP at Walden. Prior to joining Walden’s team, Amanda worked in substance abuse IOP, outpatient for children and families, and as part of an in-home crisis stabilization team. Amanda incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in her work with her patients, as well as other mindfulness-based practices. She is particularly interested in movement therapy and yoga as treatment for various conditions, and will be helping to start the new Trauma and SMART programs at the Braintree clinic.