Back To School In Eating Disorder Recovery
Believe it or not, back to school was always one of my favourite times of the year. Call me crazy, but there was nothing I loved more than Fall sweaters, class schedules, and school supplies shopping. (Can you really have too many pencils and notebooks?).
Back to school meant the chance for a fresh start... a clean slate. New opportunities, new teachers, new classes, new friendships. I thrived on getting my class materials organized and colour-coded. Learning always gave me a "high".
During my second year of college, anorexia began to surface. School became less enticing, as I was losing interest (and hope) in most things around me. My whole world became dedicated to my eating disorder, and the academic goals I had set for myself went from getting straight As to just getting through the day.
I graduated college still in the midst of my illness. I had been in and out of school for seven years before I got my degree, having to take time away to enter various treatment programs. What I wish, though, is that I would have had some sort of guide - a guide for navigating school while dealing with an eating disorder. So, here is the guide I have created for you.
I am not going back to school this year (that ship has long sailed), but I feel I have compiled enough advice that I can put together some pretty relevant (and hopefully useful) suggestions for you to follow. School can be tough, and school with an eating disorder? Even tougher. Read carefully through the points outlined below and see if you can incorporate some of them into your routine this Fall.
Take A Tour Of Your Campus
Getting your bearings on your school campus is always important, but is especially crucial in ED recovery. Given that much of our day is focused around food, we need to know where the coffee shops, food stands, and restaurants are located in and around campus. The worst thing is being stuck in a situation where you need to eat a meal or snack but have no idea where to go. Take a look at what kind of food is available at the different locations on campus. Where will you be able to grab lunch? A mid-afternoon snack? A juice or smoothie? Do these places accept cash? Student ID cards? Make a sort of "mental map" of your campus, landmarking all the important food stops. Trust me, this map will come in handy!
Make A Schedule
And not just your class schedule. I encourage you to plan your day-to-day routine, pencilling in things like hobbies, social clubs, and sports. But don't forget to include food into this schedule, too. Will you eat breakfast at home every morning? Or do you usually run late and will need to pick up a bite to eat from a coffee shop? If you live in a dorm, will you have access to a fridge and stove? Or will you need to dedicate time every day to visit the dining hall? Do you have classes scheduled during meal times, in which case you will need to bring breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner to class? Getting organized by creating a daily and weekly schedule is key.
As students, we get incredibly busy real fast. You know that feeling of boredom you experience during the first class when the teacher is going over the course outline a little too slowly? Yeah, that boredom won't last long. Soon you'll be knee deep in class notes and textbooks and exam schedules and food will (most likely) want to take the back seat. But that is a big NO! Grades are important, but so is your mental health. That's where meal prep comes in handy. I remember the last thing I wanted to do after a long day of classes was cook, so if you can reserve an hour or two on the weekend to get some meals ready for the week, I promise you you will save time (and energy!). Prep a couple options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and you'll have a fridge full of choices where you can mix and match depending on what you're craving that day.
Don't Skip Meals
The temptation will feel all too real. Oftentimes, getting absorbed in our studies prevents us from prioritizing the time to eat. While this may be common practice for the majority of the student body, it is NOT okay for those of us in ED recovery. Skipping meals and/or snacks is a dangerous slope, as we know that once we cut something out one day, it becomes harder to re-introduce it the following day. Please, always make time to eat. If you can't take a break from working, AT LEAST eat while you work. Your body (and brain) will thank you for it. Plus, it's what is right for your health and recovery.
Push Yourself To Eat With Friends
Don't isolate. Eating with other people can feel overwhelming and anxiety-provoking, but it is essential in trying to maintain healthy eating habits. Find a couple of people you feel comfortable enough eating with and try and schedule lunch or snack dates. Having other people there eating with you normalizes eating, and also provides some means of accountability. Don't be shy to get support from your friends!
Don't Cut Calories To "Earn" Your Alcohol
If you are in college and are going out drinking, please, please don't restrict during the day in order to give you some "room" for calories ingested through alcohol at night. Firstly, this is an unhealthy way of thinking, but secondly, we need to eat well before consuming alcohol so that we can handle the drinks we have at night, and not feel sick. Maintain your eating structure throughout the day leading up to a night of partying and work through the urges to restrict beforehand.
Whether you're in high school or college, really try and soak everything in. As someone who has graduated, I can say that I do miss certain aspects of school. Managing an eating disorder and studying is going to be difficult, but it certainly is do-able. Try and keep the big picture in mind - learning is the ultimate goal. Have your efforts be dedicated to learning and meeting new people and try and have them be less about controlling or obsessing over food. You've got this!
Back to school can be fun, but it can also feel overwhelming. See what kind of resources are available for you on campus and don't be shy to try some of them out. Remember to take care of yourself - in doing so, learning will feel more rewarding, and I promise you will enjoy your academic journey a lot more. Let me know how back to school goes for you! What are you most excited about?