Tips for Transitioning to College While Overcoming an Eating Disorder


Whether you’ve just received a diagnosis, started treatment, or finished a program to help you overcome an eating disorder, you’ll need special support and a solid plan as you transition to college.

Learn how to manage overcoming an eating disorder while transitioning from home to college with these key tips.

Types of Eating Disorders

First, know that you are not alone in your battle with an eating disorder. Thirty million Americans deal with an eating disorder at some time in their lives.

These eating disorders, under the umbrella of mental health conditions, are most common in men and women in their teens and twenties:

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Binge-Eating Disorder

Establish Support Before You Arrive

Whether you’ve finished a treatment program or you’re in therapy, you’ll need to set up support at your school. Most colleges have mental health professionals on campus. You can start there or get a referral from your physician for a local therapist who specializes in eating disorders. Make your transition as stress-free as possible by establishing care before you get to school. That way you know you’ll have help starting the first day on campus.

Understand the College Transition Can be Tough

Finding friends, adjusting to college classes, and navigating a new world prove overwhelming for many students. The pressures of adapting to college on top of dealing with an eating disorder make things more challenging. You won’t be alone in your transition from high school to college. Reach out to peers, professors, academic advisors, or a counselor for further support adjusting to college.

How to Handle Freedom

At college, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by a smorgasbord of food choices at dining halls and campus cafes, as well as all-hours eating opportunities like late night pizza runs and dorm snack fests. You may hear students worrying about gaining “the freshman 15” now that they’re away from home. This type of stimulus can be overwhelming. For an easier transition, create a plan with your counselor to make healthy choices you can feel good about.

Be Aware of Other Risk Factors

Individuals with eating disorders are at higher risk for alcoholism, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders, like depression or anxiety.

  • Consider skipping parties and taking part in alcohol and drug-free activities.
  • Get involved in clubs or groups with like-minded peers.
  • Make sure you inform your counselor of any new symptoms, negative thoughts, or anything different you experience once you get to college.

Recognize Cultural “Norms” Aren’t Normal

Teenagers are bombarded with images of celebrities, models, and social media sensations touted as glamorous and thin. From magazine covers to tv shows to the internet, unrealistic and airbrushed photos can make anyone feel inadequate, let alone someone suffering from an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. It’s important to remember that these images aren’t real. They are extremely touched up, and often times don’t resemble the celebrity.

College students live in a world where dysfunctional behaviors are often perceived as normal. Binge drinking, sexual promiscuity, and other unhealthy activities are not the norm. You don’t have to go along with those crowds. If you discover your roommate or a new friend is binging and purging, or excessively dieting, don’t adopt an “everyone’s doing it” mentality. Surround yourself with people who live a healthy lifestyle and talk to your counselor regularly.

Limit Social Media Exposure

It’s so easy to compare yourself to pictures of your friends and other students on social media outlets. But with portrait and selfie editor apps it’s easy to touch up photos in a flash. You look like you—don’t waste time wishing you looked like someone else.

Transitioning to college can be challenging for anyone, especially individuals overcoming an eating disorder or other mental/physical disorders. With the right support and a great plan, you can set yourself up for success and enjoy all the fun opportunities college brings. If you are attending college in the Pennsylvania or New Jersey area, and are looking for a support system as you transition to college, contact The Light Program today.