National Eating Disorders Association

At the age of thirteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Without proper support, understanding, or resources it took me ten years to receive the appropriate treatment I needed to recover. A year into recovery, I began my journey pursuing my master’s degree in occupational therapy. Having personal experiences with mental illness, I was interested in focusing my learning on occupational therapy and mental health (specifically eating disorders).

The start of a new semester can be a bittersweet moment. For most college students, it is time to leave your hometown to return to school. This can be an exciting time where you will navigate campus and rekindle friendships from past semesters. However, for someone in eating disorder recovery, the transition may be overwhelming. Though you may be ready to take on the new semester, it’s important to remember these tips and tricks for maintaining recovery. 

Returning to school after summer break is a big transition. It can be a happy and exciting time, as well as a scary and confusing one. Either way, orientation week and going back to school can feel quite disorienting for anyone, but for someone who struggles with an eating disorder it can pose some added challenges.

Last week, I had my first day of classes in Copenhagen, where I will be studying abroad for the next semester. In my applied psychotherapy course, my professor gave us a piece of advice:  treat yourself the way you want to treat others, because quite often, we are not as kind to ourselves as we should be. This is true in many aspects, especially when talking about body image. 

Going back to school for my second year at college is something I’ve been looking forward to for the entire summer. I have enjoyed living far from home, having my own space, and being able to learn and explore the world as an independent person. I love my school and my friends, and I could not imagine a better environment for personal growth and the acquisition of knowledge. Along with all of these pleasures that make going back to school so appealing, there is a lot of added responsibility and anxiety that can also make the environment difficult to navigate. 

Like many of us, I always spent the month of August wondering who my teachers would be, what kind of homework I’d get, and who might be in my classes. In the past, the ambiguity made me a little nervous about going back to school, until I faced the most nerve-wracking August of my life. That August, I was preparing to go back to school after receiving treatment for my eating disorder. 

I was terrified. 

As we all know, being a student is tough. From back-to-school changes to busy schedules throughout the year, many students feel a strain - and that can be especially true for those affected by eating disorders.

In an online poll conducted by NEDA, we found that over one third of students expressed that their school had no eating disorders resources available to them, so this is a very common problem. That’s why NEDA is focusing more of our efforts on supporting young people.

I believe that traveling teaches us so much about ourselves, the world, and our relationship to both. That being said, traveling was merely a dream I had for a very long time. I very much wanted to experience new places. I wanted to feel the excitement of new surroundings. I wanted to learn and be a part of new cultures. But I was held prisoner by an eating disorder.

“But I’m just not that artistic!” is something I hear frequently in practice with individuals working through their eating disorder recovery. You don’t have to consider yourself “artistic “to use creative expression as a coping mechanism in your recovery journey.  Art in its many forms can serve as a positive way to cope or as a distraction from the eating disorder voice in your head.   

Women grow up knowing that if we have a problem with the status quo, the burden is on us to change—cover up and don’t look slutty, don’t drink so much, learn how to defend yourself. Don’t be a distraction.

As a college student, these societal expectations are repulsive. Teachers should be educating students on how to challenge cultural norms, expand their minds, and think critically about the messages they receive. Instead, young girls are being humiliated, objectified, and sexualized—with emotionally devastating consequences.