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.
Being in school and being in recovery often looks like a contradiction. College students in particular are known for their taxing and sporadic schedule, for their little to no sleep, and for their poor dietary habits; all of which are a breeding ground for eating disorder behaviors. This is why it is especially important to create a plan of action beforehand in order to avoid letting the eating disorder ruin the school year.
The added freedom that comes with going back to school can be an opportunity to explore different fields, finding passions and interests as well as meeting lifelong friends. But it can also be risky and precarious . In fact, added autonomy often comes with loss of a support system. Being far from home and not knowing anyone (yet) can leave us feeling even more alone with our thoughts and struggles.
Going back to school is a lot!
Even as I am approaching the beginning of my senior year of college, my eating disorder voice is becoming a little louder. But I have become a better observer, and I recognized that one of the stressor for me is overbooking myself. Setting a lot of expectations and goals before a new semester starts can be very exciting, but can leave me feeling really overwhelmed and prone to choose unhealthy coping mechanisms. Throughout the years I have developed strategies that have helped me continue on my healing journey and learn how to reach out when needed. The challenges are many, but so are the resources available.
Strategies I found helpful to maintain eating disorder recovery while in school:
- Identifying what elicits the eating disorder voice.
- Establishing a routine.
- Scheduling time for meals and self-care.
- Getting enough sleep!
- Practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga, outdoor time. ME TIME.
- Reaching out to the counseling office.
- Setting realistic goals.
- Allowing yourself to say no, not liking something, and being willing to change.
- If you can’t find your group of people, create one. There are most likely others who feel like you do.
Being a student is a tough job and we take it very seriously, but we need to remember that taking care of our mental and physical health is the most important one. In fact, if we are not ready to go back to school because of the many challenges related to eating disorders, recognizing that and taking a step back to fully recover is best. School is not a race, but a time of claiming one’s own identity, thus, making sure to have a solid plan of action to stay in recovery is essential.
To everyone going back to school: be honest and open, reach out for support when you need it, and most importantly: create time for self care, actually schedule it on your calendar!
To all of you that are taking time off school to allow yourselves to heal: school can wait, and it will be there whenever you are ready, strong, and healthy. Your healing will bring you wholeness and presence in your future schooling.
Good luck with the new school year!
Giulia Defant is an undergraduate international student from Italy pursuing a bachelor in psychology and sociology at the University of Minnesota Morris. After taking a year off school to focus on healing from eating disorders, Giulia became passionate about advocating for mental health and eating disorder recovery. In 2017 she embarked on a journey to India and Nepal where she became a 500-hours registered yoga teacher with a focus in trauma sensitive yoga. She has spent this past summer as a Helpline intern at NEDA as well as teaching yoga at a women’s shelter.