Eating Disorder Recovery During Your Freshman Year of College, Part 4: Support Networks
This is the fourth blog post in the series on eating disorder recovery during your freshman year. The previous posts were on relapse prevention, food fears, and comparisons. In this blog post, I discuss how to cope with what often initially feels like a decrease in your support system and ways to build up supports at school.
Even if your eating disorder recovery has been in a relatively stable place, the transition to college is a big change that can feel overwhelming and has the potential to exacerbate eating disorder symptoms. To help you navigate bumps along the way it is important that you have a support system in place.
Having a support system is a necessary part of recovery and recovery maintenance. What makes up your support system may differ from person to person but often consists of family, friends, treatment providers, support groups, and/or pets. Regardless of what your support system has been, it is likely to change during college with the level of change being influenced by if you are living at home, living in a dorm but staying close to home, or going to college out of state.
While coping with the initial shift in support, it can be helpful to maintain more frequent contact with supports from your recovery journey so far. This connection may look different but can still be helpful. This could include having a meal over FaceTime with parents or high school friends, talking or texting friends regularly, or sending updates to your treatment team at home. There is no need to let go of these supports once you feel more connected to new supports at school. You can think of it as just expanding your support system.
Part of expanding your support system involves establishing your treatment team at school. It can be very challenging to switch to a new team and takes a while to build up trust. Every provider is different and it may take a while to see if you connect with your new team. Having your treatment team at home communicate with your team at school can be helpful in making it feel like you aren’t starting at square one. Your feedback is important as well, you can share what was helpful in working with your team previously and what topics you want to continue to focus on. Also make sure that if you feel like you aren’t clicking with a new provider that you have a discussion about it, there may be something that provider can change and if not, they likely have referrals that may be a better fit for you.
Friends and roommates can also be a source of support but whether/when/how to disclose can be a difficult decision. Often times, building up some trust with your new roommate or friends can make it feel safer to disclose. If you do decide to disclose, they may be able to offer emotional support and can help you maintain accountability in your recovery journey. It also allows for more open conversations around keeping the dorm a recovery supportive environment (no scales, avoiding negative body and food talk, etc.). If you decide that you don’t feel safe disclosing, that is ok too. The important piece is just to make sure you have a support team that is adequate and feels good to you.
Another way to build support is by getting involved in support groups. Some campuses having eating disorder or body image specific support groups at their counseling center. If there aren’t any available on campus or nearby (or you don’t like in person groups), virtual support groups are a wonderful option as well. Many different organizations (like National Alliance for Eating Disorders or ANAD ) offer free virtual support groups so you can try several out and see which ones fit best. Make sure when attending a support groups that discussions are pro-recovery. You may need to attend a group a few times before seeing if it is a fit for you.
Remember this is a transition, and that building up new supports takes time. It may feel hard or scary at first to build up your support network and that is normal. Recovery is full of hard and scary things but as you keep stepping forward, it gets easier and easier. Challenge yourself to start working on building up your support system now rather than waiting until you are in a difficult spot. Recovery is possible, take the necessary steps to protect the work you have done so far.