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Unhealthy EDNOS Patterns Are Returning During College Break

By January 31, 2013

I am a 20-year-old college student who has struggled with an eating disorder (EDNOS) since the start of high school. I sought help from the counseling center on campus starting freshman year (so for two school years). These services aren’t available during the summer, and I’m finding this summer exceptionally challenging. This is my first time out of the dorms, not eating cafeteria food….and it’s not as easy as I thought. I’m really struggling to adjust and not fall back into old patterns. A few weeks ago I purged for the first time in 18 months and felt like a complete failure, and these thoughts and temptations are becoming more frequent. I’m having a hard time facing the reality of grocery shopping and cooking for myself. Also, one of my roommates has a scale: I hadn’t weighed myself for two years, but now I’ve been weighing myself at least once a day on most days. I feel like unhealthy patterns are sneaking back into my daily pattern, I find myself not entirely opposed to them, and this absolutely terrifies me. I feel like I’m slipping, but I’m so tired. I don’t feel like I have anybody to talk to right now and I don’t know how to handle the new stresses of living more independently on top of summer classes, work, financial worries, family “stuff”, etc. I’m working on a special project for a class; part of this project will involve weighing participants (a necessary part of a critical calculation)….I’m not sure if it’s a good idea, but I can’t turn back on the project. I don’t know whether or not I need to bring this up with the professor or not, or how I would do it if I did (even though I know her well). How can I manage summer until the counseling services resume in fall? When does the cycle end? I thought things would start getting easier by now, but I’m starting to fear that I will never escape this hell. It’s discouraging and I feel like I’m hitting a dead end.  – Mel

Dear Mel,

First, congratulations on your hard work in recovery and for making the effort to reach out for help. You obviously want to be well and are wisely seeking out resources in order to be successful. Unfortunately, “slipping” is very common in the recovery process; fortunately, this does not mean failure. The most significant point in a time of relapse or slipping is the period immediately following the rough spot-right now is precisely the time to pick up, dust off, roll up your sleeves and keep going-without judgment and despair. There is hope! Sounds like getting back to the basics with a little structure is what is in order.

Do whatever you can to incorporate accountability back into your daily routine. This means scheduling breakfast, lunch, dinner and/or snack dates (eat with people who are supportive); go back to following the structure of a meal plan even for a designated period of time (perhaps until school starts again and counseling services are available); for a time, take someone with you to the grocery store and ask for a hand cooking meals; and stop weighing yourself (this, I would recommend a cold-turkey stop).

As far as continuing with the school project having to weigh participants…my opinion is that even the most triggering events can be handled using effective coping skills. Draw from the list of skills that you have learned in previous counseling sessions – what works for you when you feel especially vulnerable and susceptible to making poor choices? Are there ways to reduce your vulnerability? Does healthy distraction work? Journaling? Calling a friend? A peaceful walk? Going to a movie? I believe the best way to experience true freedom in recovery is not to try to avoid triggering situations, but rather to successfully navigate through them…this reinforces your ability to competently handle many difficult situations that come your way.

Over time, use of these healthy skills becomes easier and eating disorder thoughts fade. Even if the thoughts never go away entirely, the cycle is less intense and recovery from “slips” is much quicker. There is no one, perfect route to full recovery. For many, the road is long with lots of detours like the one you are taking right now. Take heart, the right path is just ahead…take the next exit and you’ll be heading in the right direction.

Juliet N. Zuercher, RD