But... she really wants to go to college

Eating disorders, among their other cruel tricks, love to arrive just in time for SATs. But ED is looking forward to college even more than your child. An environment that expects independence, a lack of adults, no accountability, erratic routines, alcohol, sleeplessness, and STRESS. ED loves college.

We think our child will be the one with the quick recovery, our child's motivation to be at school will keep them well, that we'll be able to keep tabs from a distance. Maybe. But we also have to consider other scenarios.

Despite the very sincere Orientation seminars about mental health supports - I've yet to hear of a school that will really look out for a student who is not seeking help. And eating disorder patients are usually reluctant - even adamantly against - seeking help. Even Cornell's recently publicized program, innovative as it is, falls short of what most parents of recently symptomatic ED patients would like to see.

Colleges do not, and can not, be responsible for monitoring or protecting students with eating disorders. In fact, my experience is that schools actively enable ED behaviors and actively discourage family support.

If you have any doubts, ask yourself why you believe it is worth the risk. Ask yourself why a semester or a year more at home is a bad thing.

My excuses were: She won't be able to handle the disappointment. She'll hate us. She's worked so hard and deserves it. I'm probably just overprotective. What would we tell people. Her friends will be ahead of her. She'll hate us. I don't want her to think we don't have faith in her...

I was wrong. She could have used more time, and her school was awful at working with her - and especially us - on support or monitoring. At one point she was rooming with an actively anorexic student and the school thought the solution was for my daughter to move if this upset her.

If you have any doubts, resist the pressure - from your child and from others and especially from your own optimism - to continue with college plans. Life must be around recovery, and not the other way around. ED loves deadlines, cut-off dates, deposits, prior commitments, and "life long dreams."

(p.s. Our daughter is now a happy, fully healthy college student. Taking time off after the first year was a lifesaver. Delaying would have been better.)


  1. i completely agree with you. college is detrimental to a person with an ED, whether or not help is completely wanted. in my case, i was attending a dance school. i was surrounded by food obsessions and a consistently competitive nature. it was torture. i eventually dropped out of school because i couldn't even focus anymore and went into treatment for a while. but i wasn't ready for treatment and was pulled from the new college i was supposed to attend the following fall. that was biggest disappointment. but i realize now it's all been worth it.

    better to work on my health during my college years while i'm young and not yet surviving on my own income.
    you must be so proud of your daughter. i am, and i don't even know her.

  2. I am SO VERY proud of my daughter. She owns her recovery, in every way.

  3. Laura:

    So well put--of course recovery and health must come before(and then be maintained during) college, sports, career etc. However, I do differ slightly on the colleges CAN NOT be responsible for monitoring. I would say instead that many DO NOT want to be-but with a signed agreement with your adult student they CAN monitor and release information to you, to the Dean, to coaches etc. I would caution parents against allowing a child, even one who is wieght restored, to go to a school that would not agree to this unless you had already arranged for private care in the community. Even then, I am not sure it says much about a school's understnading of adolescence. I also think it is fine to put limits on the geographic distance and other attributes of the school if you think it is necessary for your child's health. I recently talked to one womne who was very distraught because all of the colleges her D was interested in were several flights,and over a 12 hour drive, away. I know she thought I was unresonable when I suggested she insist her D also apply to a school within a more reasonable travel distance in case she wasnt' comfortable with her D being so far away. My peace of mind is so much greater becuase my D is monitored regularly (infomration shared directly with us by the provider) and also she is within a six hour drive and sixty minutes plane flight. I find that with her getting the medical informtion is important but it is also important for either my H or I to see her in person on a regular basis as after all this time just talking with her or having a meal with her helps us to know if she is struggling. Plus, after all the intensity of being together literally almost 24 hours a day during her illness she enjoys, as do I, the chance to spend some time together enjoying her hard earned recovery. I am so impressed with her strength and courage.

    I completely agree that you have to be prepared 1) to keep them home if they are not well enough and far enough into recovery to maintain at school and 2)be prepared, like Laura was, to bring them back home if necessary if they need more support.

  4. I have to agree with this 100%

    I SHOULD be in first year university right now, but I took a year off to recovery. I know now that I would have undoubtably crashed and burned in university as my psychiatrist told me.

    Funny that our original Maudsley therapist (I eventually recovered in a program -- MM did not work for our family, we have other issues) said that it was so great I would have 5 weeks to practice eating on my own before I left for university.

    Yeah right! Someone with an ED must be in stable recovery for 6months to a year before they are ready for such a change.


  5. A-

    I am very proud of you for taking this brave step. And for recognizing your need to put recovery first.


    I think this kind of modeling is helpful for people like, say, me. :) That life doesn't end when plans go awry. My situation was different because I didn't get sick until I was basically a sophomore/junior and rapidly reached crisis point. But I wonder if things might have turned out differently if "the professionals" encouraged me to stay home and put things on hold.

  6. I have to say that for ME as a parent the college and school teachers that we have come across in our journey have been a LOT more helpful and approachable than the health care professionals and now that my daughter is having a rest from school I miss them dreadfully.

    And yes, A;) you're right, ONE interpretation of the Lock and LeGrange manual is to rush through things and plunge the sufferer straight back into "normal life" whatever that is, as soon as the time limited sessions are over - that's how it felt for me with my daughter's treatment too.

    Of course my daughter was in school locally. Going away from home/from support whether that be from family or from professional treatment team before totally and utterly ready, and without the back up of regular check-ins must surely be a bad thing for many young students whether they have EDs or not.

  7. This could not have come at a better time for us.
    Just yesterday in our T session my D stated (she will turn 18 in 5 months) that she intended to move out for the summer and then in the fall head to college and she has applied to very far away places, which all along felt like the ED was involved in.
    It was good that we started to discuss this in T and I am going to inform our T of the opinions here as they are my opinions too but its great to have this back up as I don't think our T is quite on board with us having so much control.
    My d has been weight restored in the past but has not maintained it well...just this past Nov she lost 10 lbs when we switched treatment teams due to insurance dropping our initial provider. As we went to a new team there was a little lag and then the T felt our D needed to be more in control...which of course failed. Now we are in control of food again and she is within 5 lbs of healthy weight but not there yet and she thinks she needs to move out in 5 months and then go to college. Of course it's a disaster in the making.
    Thank you for your backup!

  8. Anon-

    College can be a good motivator for recovery, too. I was weight restored for about 4 months before I moved away to school, and I'll admit, it was hard. I did slip at the end of last semester (my first away). On the other hand, college was a good motivator for recovery.

    I know that if I were her age, I would think it was disastrous, too. The reality is that no one really cares at the end of the day. My brother never went away to school- he stayed at home the entire 4-5 years. He wasn't ready to go away. (FWIW, I didn't get sick until I went away to college).

    All the best to your family.


  9. I absolutely agree. I convinced myself I'd recover in college, but my ED got so much worse and I had to take time off after my second year.


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