How to Cope with the Transition to College When You Have an Eating Disorder

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Stephanie Waitt, LPC PhD

College is an exciting time. For the first time, you are an adult living on your own, making decisions and new friends, and starting to take a large step toward your future. You are excited, and also overwhelmed. Frankly, you are freaked out! 

You are freaked out because you have left your home support system. You worry if you can make friends and do well in school while living with a roommate. After the excitement wears off and reality sets in, you feel stressed and anxious. You want peace, quiet, and your old bed. You’re unsure about managing all the school work and developing new friends at the same time. You came to school feeling confident and recovered from your eating disorder, but now your eating disorder thoughts are returning.

Does this sound all too familiar?

College is fun, but it’s often a time that triggers eating disorders. In my practice, I love working with college kids struggling with various eating disorders. Most believed they were recovered and doing well but as they start school they began to see a return of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.

This happens because you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. Remember, your eating disorder is a coping skill. This new stress occurs as you adjust to college life, leading you to return to eating disorder behaviors. 

Relapse is not your fault. 

Your brain easily returns to previous coping strategies when things get hard. Rather than beat yourself up, here are some tips to help you get back on the road to recovery.

Return to Basics

When you first recovered what helped you? 

For example: What helped you eat when you first started recovery or did it help to follow a meal plan? 

Perhaps you need your dietician to make a more specific meal plan so you know what to eat and can reduce feeling overwhelmed.

Write a list of five things you can do to feel better.

Begin with step one and continue by going through all five steps. Be sure to complete everything on your list. 

If you still feel icky (crummy, down, overwhelmed), start over again.

Engage Support

Who helped you recover? 

Call those people and ask them to help you again. Find an accountability partner. If you moved from home, seek out support near your school. Most schools have excellent counseling centers. Start by reaching out to your campus counseling center.

Refocus Your Value

You have a lot to offer! 

You have value, even though your eating disorder is working really hard to keep you from remembering this right now. Remember the eating disorder voice LIES. Choose to focus on what makes you valuable. 

What makes you special? 

Try journaling answers to these four questions:

● What can you do that no one else can do? Feel free to brag.

● What are your strengths? 

● What are your talents and skills? How can you focus on these this week?

● Do you want to be known and remembered for how well you dieted and worked out or for the impact you made in your family and community and possibly the world?

You are dealing with a lot right now, and it is OK to not be prepared for this transition. No one is 100% ready for the transition to college, so accept that you will make mistakes—every new student does. Your eating disorder will try to edge its way back in but you recovered and overcame once, and you can return to this place of freedom again.


● Relapse is not your fault

● Return to basics

● Make a list of coping skills

● Engage support

● Refocus your value

Do these things and you’ll be on your way to feeling more empowered and in control. Asking for help during this time is OK and shows strength and determination. 

Take care of YOU and college will be as great as you dreamed it would be.

Dr Stephanie Waitt specializes in treating eating disorder at her practice, Texoma Specialty Counseling. In her work with people she aims to help men and women find balance, peace, confidence, and happiness with their bodies, relationships, and life. She emphasizes the importance of self-care and encourages people that being a little selfish is a really good thing. Stephanie is also an online recovery coach. In her recovery coaching Stephanie helps people learn to find peace with their bodies and ditch dieting. She helps people find confidence and the power to live the life they want right now! You can learn more about her practice and online recovery coaching at