Written by: Holly Willis, PMHNP-BC
Nurse Practitioner, The Renfrew Center
College break can bring challenges and complications for those in recovery from an eating disorder. In this post, we look at the most common pitfalls college students experience and useful tips for overcoming them.
After surviving a semester at college, summer break can be a welcome relief from it all. For those recovering from eating disorders, however, summer break presents its own unique set of challenges. The key to maintaining eating disorder recovery over summer break is anticipating those challenges and preparing to respond to them in a recovery-sustaining way. Let’s first look at some of the pitfalls of summer break, and then we will identify some tips to stay on track in your recovery.
Home is where the heart(ache) is. Going home for some means stepping back into a dysfunctional dynamic that contributed to the development of the eating disorder. Moving off to college offers the space and freedom to curate your own recovery-focused environment and returning home makes it tempting to slip back into old habits. Another major concern of college students is seeing people they have not seen for a while and worrying what they will think or say about any body changes that may have happened.
Summer Fit Check. Crop tops, bikinis, skirts, and shorts- warm weather fashion often means less coverage. The pressure to participate in the latest fashion trends can cause a lot of stress for someone battling body image issues. The desire to have the “perfect body” can be enough to derail recovery.
A break in the routine. Life at college is structured. Chances are, you got into a rhythm that allowed you to fulfill your academic duties while simultaneously caring for your mental health and nutritional needs. The decrease in structure over summer break can put you at risk of diverting from your meal plan.
7 Tips for Keeping Your Recovery on Track During Summer Break
Prioritize your recovery. Start every day from a recovery-focused place by setting your intention. In doing so, it sets the tone for the day and helps you to make the next right decision. It is easy to get distracted by summer activities, but it is important to make decisions through a lens that prioritizes your health and wellness above all else.
Make a plan (and stick to it!). The decrease in structure shifting from college to summer break gives old habits an opportunity to creep back in so it is helpful to create your own structure. Plan out your days by waking up and going to bed at similar times each day. Set times for meals and snacks to fuel yourself throughout the day. It is also important to carve out time to dedicate to practicing the therapeutic tools that have brought you this far in your recovery. Take time to journal, be mindful, and to reflect.
Share the journey. Tell your trusted loved ones about your recovery process and enlist their support in the journey. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and isolation, so opening up to trusted support people is a way to combat the isolating nature of the disorder. You can discuss specific ways they can best support you, including helpful things to say when you are struggling as well as identifying what would be unhelpful. While ultimately your recovery is up to you, none of us go it alone and connectedness is one of the most powerful tools to maintain your recovery.
Stay connected to your treatment team. You may be taking a break from the demands of your college courses, but your eating disorder never takes a break so keeping regular appointments with your therapist, dietician, and psychiatric provider is crucial. Many providers will see you virtually, which makes staying connected easier. As the semester ends, talk with your providers to see if they are able see you over the summer. If they are not, request referrals for eating disorder specialists you can see while you are home.
Extra support. In addition to keeping regular appointments with your eating disorder providers, seek out support groups to keep you focused and dedicated on your recovery. There are both virtual and in-person groups available through reputable eating disorder treatment facilities and outpatient providers.
Get a tune-up. Recovery is not linear. If the shifts in structure over summer destabilize your recovery, a step up to a higher level of care can be just what you need to get on track. Relapsing into eating disorder behaviors does not undo all the hard work you have put into your recovery and seeking that higher level of support sooner rather than later will give you the best opportunity to get back on track and back to your life.
Have fun! You earned your summer break, so enjoy it! Eating disorders can steal your joy and rob you of your interests. Reconnect with the things that bring you joy and things that matter to you while honoring your commitment to recovery.
You’ve got this …
Going on college summer break can be both exciting and daunting. The key to maintaining and furthering your eating disorder recovery lies in finding just the right balance of nurturing your recovery while also challenging yourself to grow. This list of pitfalls and tips is not comprehensive, so take some time to consider additional things that could compromise your journey and brainstorm your own tips to add to your recovery repertoire. Wherever this summer takes you, remember to bring with you the strength and tools you have gained along the way, and never hesitate to reach out to eating disorder experts for any additional support you may need to continue your path to health, peace, and recovery.