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College Students: Eating Disorders

Recovery and Help

Starting and attending college can be some of the most fun a young adult will have, with numerous memories being made each semester, however, it can be very challenging for someone with an eating disorder. Sudden independence, the stress of on-campus dining and having to eat independently without home cooked meals, various social pressures and peer pressure, and not knowing how or where to seek help can contribute to increased struggles with any type of easting disorder on a college campus. Paying attention to warning signs, normalizing food and exercise behaviors to healthfully fit a college lifestyle, and seeking support and help are vital to managing an eating disorder. Recovery is possible, even while you are in college.

Opening Up and Getting Help

Opening up to others, whether it's a friend, family member, or even a doctor, can be overwhelming and scary. feelings of embarrassment, scared of judgement, or not knowing what the other person may say can be hard. It's important to remember that there is nothing to be embarrassed over. Having an eating disorder is not your fault, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. The first step to recovery is to identify someone whom you trust and feel comfortable talking to. Family and friends can be a good option, but if you’re concerned about your eating behaviors, it is advisable to also speak with a professional counselor and/or nutritionist. Getting help from a professional who understands eating, weight, and body image issues can feel less threatening and more objective because they are familiar with situations like your own and you don't personally know them. Whether you choose to tell someone close to you first or go to a professional is up to you. There is no right or wrong choice, it's solely about what makes you feel more comfortable.


When you decide who you are going to tell, explain your thoughts and feelings and what has been going on, using as much details as you feel comfortable giving out. Start from the beginning, and talk about how you began disordered eating habits and what made you continue them. Although you may not fully know or understand why you have these rituals, attempting to provide clarity if you have some can help whom you are telling understand better what you are experiencing. It is important to keep in mind that the person you have confided in may not completely understand exactly how you are feeling or the reasons for your behavior, especially if they are uneducated on eating disorders. They may demonstrate shock, denial, fear, or even anger. Be patient and remain calm. Remember that they may not automatically know the best way to respond and support you, but you can help them learn by showing them resources or by bringing them to our website or the website of NEDA.

Always remember that it's not your fault and you shouldn't feel ashamed or embarrassed because of an eating disorder.

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Seeking Professional Help

Setting up a treatment plan is most important once you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. If you believe you may have an eating disorder, it's important to visit your primary care doctor or a mental health specialist first to see what kind of treatment and recovery options there are. Whether you start by seeing your primary care practitioner or some type of mental health professional, they will more than likely refer you to a team of professionals who specialize in eating disorder treatment. This may sound scary, but it's really just a team of trained professionals in different backgrounds who are going to form a team to help support you in various ways.


Members of this team may include:

  • A mental health professional, such as a psychologist to provide psychological therapy. If you need medication prescription and management, you may see a psychiatrist. Some psychiatrists also provide psychological therapy.

  • A registered dietitian to provide education on nutrition and meal planning.

  • Medical or dental specialists to treat health or dental problems that result from your eating disorder.

  • Your significant other, parents/family members, and friends. Having support from loved ones is essential in your path to recovery.

It's best if everyone involved in your treatment communicates about your progress so that adjustments can be made to treatment as needed and to try and avoid any type of relapse or unmonitored progress.

Managing an eating disorder can be a long-term challenge. You may need to continue to see members of your treatment team on a regular basis, even if your eating disorder and related health problems are under control. While it may take a while to recover from an eating disorder, recovery is possible, and it's important to stay motivated and remember than you can do it! Make sure you lean on your support team as needed.

Relapse and Self Esteem

Relapsing, in simple terms, means to fall back into an illness or disorder after a period of recovery. General rates of eating disorder relapse are especially high within the first year of recovery, especially for college students, with continued risk for up to two years after recovery begins. Relapse can impact an individual who is in recovery from any eating disorder, for any amount of time, but the risk of relapse is particularly high in individuals who are recovering from anorexia nervosa. Relapsing while in college is high as college students have a unique lifestyle and may be around things that trigger their recovery, not to mention added stress that occurs while in college can negatively impact someones recovery from an eating disorder. Regardless of what resources and help are provided, for various reasons, some students find it too difficult to work on their recovery skills while in college and may fall into a relapse. This may mean going back to unhealthy eating habits, purging, or struggling with self esteem and body issues more severely again. The reality of having an eating disorder while in college is that relapse can happen. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Recovering from an eating disorder can be very challenging, and it can be even harder to build self esteem and body positivity.

Full recovery is possible. The important thing is recognizing a relapse when it happens and taking the steps to get back on track. College students are often hesitant to seek help because they fear having to take time off from school for residential or inpatient treatment. They are even more fearful of telling someone they had a relapse because they feel people will judge them. Remember to keep things in perspective. Though it might seem like the end of the world at the time, it is worth taking a few weeks off or even a semester off or longer if needed to save your life and reach full recovery. Never forget, you got this! 💜 

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