If your college student has/had an eating disorder, you may want parent coaching to help you support them in making the transition to school. College students are at high risk of eating disorders, and unfortunately things are getting worse. About 15% of college students were at risk for an eating disorder in 2013, but today that number is up to 28%. This significant increase has a direct impact on your college student’s health and safety at college.
You want to find the most effective way to help your child take good care of their physical and mental health, especially if they are living independently for the first time after having an eating disorder. College is a risky time for people who have/had eating disorders because parents aren’t physically present to do things like:
- Look at your child’s body and see changes
- Watch how your child is eating and notice warning signs
- Feed your child regular, healthy meals
- Monitor behaviors like over-exercise and purging
- Support your child in getting to/from mental health appointments
Slipping into disordered eating behaviors at college is all too easy. But that doesn’t mean parents are helpless. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you can do to support your child in this important life stage.
You may find yourself facing the tough choice of pulling your child out of college to protect their health. This is a serious decision for anyone to make, and it can impact how your child feels about you and themselves. And there are some parents who can’t do this even if they want to, for example if your child has a scholarship or job and can support themselves. Since college students are over 18 years old, your financial and legal power are greatly reduced, but there are still things you can do.
Preparing your college student
Many parents make the difficult choice to send a child to college when they aren’t sure if recovery is solid. There is no perfect answer. Nobody can truly know if your child will do better or worse when they get to college and have more independence. But you’ll want to do everything you can to set your child up for success in college and beyond.
Start by considering their eating disorder status. What stage of recovery do you think they’re in? If they’re in very early recovery and you have any chance of delaying their entry into college that might be best. However, many people achieve a level of recovery that is medically stable but still troubling in some ways.
Considering that almost all females and more than half of males have negative body image and disordered eating patterns, some level of disordered thoughts and behaviors are considered normal in our society. I don’t like it, and you probably don’t either, but it’s true.
You need to balance your child’s need for independence and the college experience with their health and safety. Eating disorder recovery is often a long road, and it rarely looks like what parents want it to look like. Consider how you can balance your wishes for a solid recovery with your child’s personality and ability to care for themselves.
Getting ready for college
Your child’s treatment team and/or you can work with your child before they return to college to set up things like:
- A meal plan and how to navigate the dining hall and feed themselves
- Limits and expectations in terms of sleep, exercise, drinking/substance use, and social activities
- Expectations in terms of check-ins with medical professionals
- A local healthcare team that can support your child’s recovery
- Planned weekly video/phone calls home
- A plan for relapse (it’s best to be prepared for this)
Parents can’t prevent relapse completely, but there is a lot you can do to support recovery and put plans in place for when things aren’t working.
How parent coaching can help
Parent coaching for a college student with an eating disorder can help you figure out things like:
- How to keep the lines of communication open with your college student
- How to talk without triggering deception and disconnection
- The difference between support and control
- Setting up a college contract with your child
- How to motivate recovery when you have little leverage
- Setting up a release of information with medical professionals
- An agenda for weekly video/phone calls
- The warning signs of relapse and what you can do
- What you can do, and what you need to let go of
- When you can/should explore financial and legal intervention to support eating disorder recovery
The most important thing when your college student has an eating disorder is to keep the lines of communication open. You need to avoid damaging your relationship and risking estrangement, since this will make it less likely that your college student will listen to you and reach out for help. This is a complex, difficult situation, but there is a lot you can do to help.
Parent Coaching for College Students With Eating Issues
Getting parent coaching can help you be more effective in parenting your college-aged child with an eating disorder. Parents who get support, training, and skills are more effective and less burned out. If you’re interested in learning more, drop me a note:
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cheat sheet: parenting a child with an Eating Disorder
Important note: Ginny is a coach, NOT a licensed therapist. She doesn’t diagnose or treat mental illness, addiction, eating disorders, etc.