How to Manage Eating Disorder Recovery When Returning to Education

The new academic year can present a lot of challenges when trying to maintain recovery, whether that’s school, college or university.

I have been in this position relatively recently, so I thought I’d share some of the things I learnt and found helpful through this process.

Plan what you are going to eat
Not knowing in advance what you are going to eat can be really freeing at later stages of recovery, and is a good place to aim for. However, not everybody is ready to do that, and it can be a really good excuse to skip food or not eat enough. Planning what you are going to eat over the course of the day can help to avoid restriction and reduce anxiety. Take everything with you that you need, and know where and what you can buy if you aren’t planning on making your own lunch or snacks.

Have support in place
Try to find out who you can go to for support if you need it, whether that’s a teacher or lecturer, some form of pastoral or counselling support, or any other mental health services available at your place of education. There might be times where things feel really difficult, and knowing ahead of this where you can go if you need some extra help can save a lot of stress.

Know where and when you can eat
Learn where the places you feel most comfortable eating are, and if you can, what times you are on breaks. This might not be possible, but knowing in advance can help you to plan what you need to take with you to eat over the day, and where you need to be.

Focus on your goals
Remind yourself why recovery is important to you. You might have specific education goals which feel relevant, or things you want to do, experience and achieve outside of that setting. It’s really easy to lose sight of these things when your mind is elsewhere and you are worried about other things, but it’s important to try to keep moving forward and paying attention to the reasons you want to remain in recovery.

Avoid comparisons
Many people with eating disorders have perfectionistic traits that can impact their lives in various different ways. Going back into an educational setting can really exacerbate this, because there’s lots of opportunities to compare. You might find yourself doing this around what classes people are in, how their grades compare to yours and whether they have more friends. Equally, it can be an environment that food and body comparisons are massively exacerbated, because you will suddenly find yourself around many more people than you’ve been around over the summer. It’s easy to compare your body to those around you and to watch what you are eating in comparison to them, but it’s really important to stay focused on yourself and your own recovery.

Find a safe space
Try to work out where you can go in or around the building if you need somewhere to decompress and gather your thoughts. Schools, colleges and universities alike can be very busy and chaotic, so knowing where you can go for some downtime can be helpful if you want some quiet time to clear your head.

Don’t put pressure on yourself
Try not to pressure yourself to be doing everything all at once. It’s tempting to want to throw yourself back into studying and to do recovery perfectly at the same time, but it’s probably not realistic to expect that much of yourself. Take it one day at a time and don’t be too hard on yourself if you have a difficult recovery day or don’t get the marks you were hoping for. Nobody can be perfect all of the time.

I hope some of these might be helpful for those of you going back into school, college or university at the moment. If you have any other tips, please do add them below.

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