As a Mother of Two Kids with Eating Disorders, Here’s How I Ease the Transition Back to School for Them

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Kristi Koeter

After summer, fall is perhaps the second-most challenging time of year for children with eating disorders. Going back to school brings a host of uncertainties and challenges that can be dysregulating for children, teens and even college-age adults. As the mother of two children diagnosed with and treated for anorexia nervosa, I’ve gained some experience in navigating this transition. Both my children, ages 14 and 20, are in recovery from their eating disorders, but I still take extra precautions to support them during this transition time.

One way I support them is by anticipating the support they need for the upcoming school year. The kind of support needed varies for each child, depending on their age and stage of illness or recovery.

For example, last summer, my youngest child wasn’t yet weight-restored when she started a new school in a new district. On top of the so-called normal parental concerns, such as whether she would like the new school, make friends, and be accepted, I also worried about her illness. To ease the transition, we toured the school during the summer and met with the counselor. I also worked to establish a 504 Plan in coordination with her therapist and dietitian so she could get accommodations for her illness at school. I wanted to make sure we had a plan in place to help ensure she would stick to her meal plan and would not be required to take part in PE. Fortunately, the planning and structure contributed to a successful transition, and I now have fewer worries about her well-being in the current school year.

On the other hand, my oldest child is still taking classes at home but is preparing to transfer to a university and move away. Since she is an adult and has been in recovery for several years, she has more autonomy in her recovery journey. My role is now more supportive and collaborative rather than directive. We engage in conversations about the support she believes she’ll need as she prepares to leave home, and together, we brainstorm potential solutions. For instance, we’ve discussed having regular meals together virtually via Zoom and even potentially doing weigh-ins together for extra support. Since she gets easily absorbed in her studies and forgets to eat, she’s working with her nutritionist to find solutions for this. They are working to come up with easy-to-prepare meal and snack ideas that don’t take a lot of time. While she’s becoming more independent, at least during the transition, we’ve agreed that she should continue meeting with her nutritionist for ongoing support.

When it comes to transitioning back to school, it’s my belief that it’s better to be proactive and well-prepared than be caught off guard by a crisis. Communication is essential, but sometimes kids can’t or won’t say what they need. Depending on where your child is in recovery, you may need to take the lead in planning for the fall transition. While you can’t prevent every issue that may arise, we can set our children up for success in their recovery.

Kristi Koeter is a marketing and communications leader with 20 years of experience as a journalist, writer, and editor. She is the mother of two children who have been diagnosed with and treated for eating disorders. She is co-author of the book Show Your Work and writes the newsletter Almost Sated ( about detoxing from diet culture. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her mountain biking, hiking, or spending time with her family in Austin, Texas.