Whether you’re starting high school for the first time, returning to a college campus, or anywhere in between, back to school time can be a stressful experience for those navigating eating disorder recovery. While the thought of balancing school and recovery at the same time may seem daunting, there are absolutely steps that you can take to make this transition as successful as possible. The more prepared you are and the more pre-planning that you can do, the better. It is 100% possible to maintain recovery while thriving in an academic environment! Below, I’ll outline some things to focus on to make it through the school year successfully while flourishing in recovery.
Whether it’s a guidance counselor, teacher, nurse, academic advisor or a trusted roommate or friend, having support in your daily life is crucial. Whether meals need to be monitored or morning snacks need to be prioritized, having accountability with this is so important. Additionally, academic advisors or guidance counselors can often create a 504 plan or made accommodations in order to prioritize your nutrition as well as appointments with your treatment team. They can also help you to schedule classes in a way that promotes enough time every day so that you have an adequate amount of time for meals.
Know your triggers and plan for how you will cope with them
Developing a plan with a therapist or family member regarding what could trigger setbacks in your recovery will help to set you up to successfully manage urges without acting on them.
Get into a rhythm with a consistent schedule for each day
This will make it easier to prioritize your meal plan if you have set times that you know that you eat each day and will make it less likely for your eating disorder to find excuses to miss meals or snacks.
Be aware of the comparison trap
- Be mindful of the amount of time that you spend looking at the bodies of the people around you. The changes that may occur in the way your body looks throughout recovery can be one of the most difficult parts in this process so be compassionate with yourself if going back to school in a body that looks or feels different is hard for you. Feeling secure in your body tends to get easier the more time you spend within your healthy weight range and get used to being there.
- Pay attention to moments when you find yourself comparing what you eat with the meals of the people around you. Remember that your needs are different from the needs of others because everyone’s bodies and metabolisms require different things. Just because you’re eating more than others around you or eating differently than they are, doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. Also, you can’t judge anyone’s full day or week of eating by a single meal that you see them eating so remind yourself of these things if you start to compare.
Manage stress and check your perfectionism at the door
- Eating disorders can often serve as a form of stress relief. It’s nearly impossible to completely avoid stress during the school year so have some ideas on hand of how you will cope with the stress that inevitably comes as a result of projects, tests and homework that can pile up during the school year. Take 5-10 minutes to write a list of ways you can reduce stress so that you have ideas when you need them.
- Do yourself a favor and Get. Enough. Sleep. It might be tempting to stay up late to study or to fit everything in that you need to get done but when you’re lacking sleep, it’s hard to do things as well as you otherwise could. Overwhelm and irritability also tend to be heightened when we lack sleep. Not sleeping an adequate amount (7-8 hours for adults and 9-10 hours for teenagers per night according to current sleep research conducted by Johns Hopkin’s University) impacts decision making which could have negative effects on decisions being made in regards to recovery.
- As hard as it may be to remember, recovery is your top priority, even over school. When your mental and physical health aren’t thriving, it may be difficult to appreciate getting good grades. Sometimes, prioritizing mental health means trading an hour of study time for an hour of sleep. Prioritizing recovery could also look like missing a class here and there to go to appointments with your treatment team and that is okay! Remember to seek out balance with academics and your recovery, not perfectionism, in these areas of your life. Perfection doesn’t exist and striving for it will only set you up for disappointment in the grand scheme of things!
The moral of the story here is this- it takes intentionality to focus on recovery when things in life get busy or when we’re in the midst of a transition. By putting some extra energy and intention into preparing for the school year, you’ll likely find that things flow more smoothly with maintaining recovery while excelling in school.
By: Dani Casto, LISW-S
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