A Letter to College Students and Others in Eating Disorder Recovery
By Shannon Brault
As we enter the hot summer days where there is still a virus keeping us from having a “normal” summer, some are preparing to (hopefully) be on campus in the fall either starting or continuing their college careers. While there is so much to learn and everyone is experiencing this time differently, there is no doubt that being in recovery from an eating disorder can make these times extra difficult and lonely.
Starting college (or any new chapter of your life) can also be extra difficult living with or being in recovery from an eating disorder. You could be away from everything you’re used to and feel out of place in this new environment. It may feel easy to fall back into symptom use when you get stressed, lonely, or overwhelmed, but there are things you can do to be proactive and stick to your recovery.
Starting college or any new chapter of your life can be scary, lonely, and exciting all at once. Whether you’re going to college, starting a new chapter of your life, or continuing life once this virus lifts, here are some things you can do to help aid your recovery. Recovery can be difficult and requires your full attention sometimes. While it can be difficult, it is possible and it is crucial in order for life to be the way it should be, with food as fuel for your body and not an enemy.
Things you can do to aid your recovery in uncertain times
1. Set a schedule.
You’ll naturally have somewhat of a schedule with your classes, but set a schedule and stick to it the best that you can. Make sure you’re taking care of your body by getting sleep and getting acclimated to a decent sleep schedule – whatever that looks like to you. Schedule time in between your classes and meetings for meals and snacks and make sure you’re fueling your mind and body with food, water, and sleep. It makes a world of a difference. The disruption of our schedules is partially what has made the COVID-19 pandemic so difficult for so many of us. Setting a schedule in uncertain times can be tough, but it is even more important now. Schedule a regular time to call a friend, a rough time of when you will eat, etc. Remember to forgive yourself if you ever get off the schedule and just get back to something that works for you.
2. Ignore the thinking that you need to completely reinvent yourself.
College is a time of growth and change. There is this kind of aura around some people—an ideology that you need to completely reinvent yourself as a person—and you don’t. This idea can lead to toxic levels, thinking that you need to be someone that you’re not or “reinvent” yourself into a different person overnight, or even in the span of a week, month, or year. And that simply is not sustainable. Chances are, you will change in college and in life in some way. Your interests will change, your ideas will change, your behaviors may change, and the people you surround yourself with may change, but that does not mean that you need to actively and fundamentally change who you are. College is glamorized, but it still is a time of self-discovery and growth for many people, and you need to roll with the punches and figure it out as you go. The idea of change can be scary, but you can also lean into it and make it less scary. This goes for life in general as well. With the changing of seasons, it can be easy to fall into the mindset that you need to reinvent who you are and recreate your past experiences, but the truth is that we need to be true to who we are (the good, the bad, and the ugly).
3. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but know that you don’t need to try everything.
You’re going to be bombarded by an endless amount of new opportunities. You may want to join a few clubs, do an intramural sport, volunteer, etc. You’re going to have all these new things that you can try and you may feel pressure to try everything, but you don’t have to. Try the things you think will make you happy and align with your interests and beliefs. Trying everything that is presented to you will only burn you out. Life is about trying new things, but with an endless amount of new things in the world, it can be overwhelming to experience a bunch of things at once. Be patient with yourself and be true and authentic to who you are.
4. Eat with a friend.
Reach out to a friend and eat with them at mealtimes. Sometimes it is easier to eat when people around you are eating as well, and sometimes it may be significantly easier to walk to the dining hall when you have someone by your side. Getting to where the food is located is the first step, and it is more than okay to reach out for guidance when you need it. If you’re living alone in this time of uncertainty, try Facetime meals with a friend or other creative ideas. Reaching out for company with things that feel like big tasks can make you feel less alone in your recovery and can give a new meaning to mealtimes.
5. Create meal breaks.
Set up times in between your classes and meetings to eat meals. It may be easy to set up your schedule or pack it so tightly that you can say that you “forgot to eat” or “don’t have time to eat,” but you need to make that time. You get the freedom to choose when you eat, but make sure you are creating those times. No matter where you are in your life, creating meal breaks and keeping yourself fueled is of the utmost importance and will keep you living and fueled throughout all your adventures that are yet to come.
6. Keep a gratitude journal.
One thing that helps me on bad days and good days alike is writing down everything I did that day and finding something positive. Even if it was an overall bad day, finding one or two positive things can make a world of difference. Write down positive things that happened, things you are grateful for (even if you can’t see them or experience them in that exact moment), or things you’re looking forward to. Keep it hopeful and it can change your entire mindset because when we have hope, we have everything.
7. Find resources and use them.
Each college campus has a wide range of resources for you as a student. Whether it’s a multicultural club, a mental health resource center, the office for disabilities, or any other resource from the wide range available to you, use it. These resources are there to help you, but you have to find them and reach out in order to receive the help and accommodations you need. If you’re not on a college campus, find local resources. All of these resources are here to help, but they can’t help you if you don’t seek them out. The people at these resources are welcoming and friendly and want the best for you and your physical, mental, and emotional health and wellbeing; plus, if you are in college, many of these resources are free and encouraged to be used.
8. Remind yourself why recovery is important to you.
When you feel like you’re starting to get off track, think about what recovery means to you and why it is important. Why are you on the path to recovery? What is on the other side of recovery? What is important to you? What makes you happy? Remind yourself of how strong you are. You have made it through 100% of your bad days. You have made it through 100% of the times you thought you wouldn’t survive. You are so brave and so strong. You will eventually settle where you need to be, and while waiting around for that can be terrifying, it is important to remember that whatever lies ahead on your road to recovery and path of life, you can handle it. You will survive it and come out even stronger than before.
These are just some of the things you can do to help yourself stick to your recovery. There are more things you can do and some things that may be more helpful to you than others. Everyone is different. Every situation is different. Every body is different. While all these things are true, I hope that this list can help you in some way and that at least one thing resonates with you. These times are hard and recovery can make them even harder, but if you believe in yourself and take care of your own needs, you will get through even stronger than you were before. Nothing is certain, but nothing changes unless you change it.
New chapters of your life can and should be exciting. In an age of social media where comparing yourself to others can be a part of your everyday routine, remember that you are your own wonderful person. It is okay to change. It is okay to ask for help. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. It’s okay to struggle and to feel out of place. It is normal and it is okay. The media we consume tells us that college is the best time ever, but if it isn’t that way right away, that is okay and that is normal. It takes time to adjust and things may feel out of control and unfair for a while. While you may not have control over many situations, you do have control over how you treat your body and how you stick to recovery. Focus on bettering yourself and your own recovery and everything else will come with it.
I believe in you 100%,