College comes with a lot of responsibilities. Balancing classes, studying, extracurriculars, and a social life often means that self-care – along with designated meal times and sleep – falls to the wayside. Skipping meals is problematic for everyone, but it’s especially dangerous for anyone recovering from an eating disorder (ED) or trying to heal their relationship with food. If you’re a college student who can relate, hear this: prioritizing adequate nourishment, stress management, and quality sleep is critical in order to stay on track with your recovery goals.
Keep reading for four tips that can help make the journey a little easier.
1. Seek Support
First things first, seek support. Find a local registered dietitian, mental health professional, and primary care physician who can work together to support you as a team. Managing an eating disorder is an incredibly difficult feat – you don’t have to do it alone.
Second, lean on trusted friends and loved ones. Eating disorders thrive in isolation, so strong social networks play a big role in successful recovery. If mealtimes or social gatherings are difficult, invite close friends and loved ones to join you so you know you will feel safe if strong emotions come up.
Also good to know: Group support can be a huge asset during this time. Research shows that finding community during the ED recovery process helps individuals maintain long-term recovery.1
Ask your school’s health center to point you in the direction of mental health services. From there you may be able to find a support group that focuses on body image and/or ED recovery. Finding a space where people understand what you’re going through can be hugely helpful while navigating recovery at college.
2. Know Where to Find Safe Meals
Our number one goal is to remain nourished and keep up recovery progress. Therefore, it’s important to have a plan in place for safe meals. A safe meal is a balanced meal that meets nutritional needs, but is made of foods that feel safe (i.e. not anxiety-provoking) to you.
We recommend proactively ID’ing safe meals from the dining hall or nearby grocery stores and restaurants. It’s also a good idea to think up some safe meals that are simple enough to be made right in your dorm kitchen. Write down your safe meal options in a place you can easily access, like a note in your phone.
Then, when anxiety is on the up and up and skipping meals feels like the only solution, lean on your safe meals. The no-brainer food pairings can help you stay nourished and recovery-focused even in the most stressful times.
3. Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
Whether you struggle with restrictive eating or find yourself binging often, being prepared with snacks is paramount to recovery. It’s important to avoid going more than five hours without food. Eating regular meals or snacks helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. Steadier blood sugar levels = steadier mood and energy = steadier progress towards recovery goals.
Stock up on non-perishable items that can be stored in your dorm room. If your busy schedule prevents you from eating consistent, balanced meals, at least you’ll be stocked with snacks.
Pro tip: Aim to include two of the three macronutrient food groups (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) in snacks so they’re satiating. This could look like an apple (carbohydrate) paired with peanut butter (fat/protein) or crackers (carbohydrate) dipped in hummus (protein).
4. Prioritize Sleep and Stress Management
Prioritizing rest and mental wellness are a critical part of navigating recovery since too little sleep and sky-high stress levels can cause us to abandon healthy coping skills and instead fall into familiar ED behaviors.
Start by finding ways to soothe stress that have nothing to do with controlling food or engaging in rigorous exercise. Some examples include short, restorative yoga practices, guided meditation or breathing, going for a leisurely walk with a friend, taking a hot shower with lavender essential oil, or (safely!) lighting a candle in your dorm room while studying.
Practicing self-care along with nourishing yourself consistently and adequately will help you move forward on your path to recovery.
It’s important to acknowledge that managing eating disorders is incredibly complex. Recovery success cannot be boiled down to four simple steps. That said, if you’re struggling with food and body image while at school, these tips are a great place to start.