back to school eating disorder triggers
Published On: Jan 22, 2021|Categories: Recovery, Teens & Children|

For students who are in recovery from an eating disorder, back-to-school season has its own unique triggers. Parents should be aware of the risk of relapse. The factors that contributed to the eating disorder may still be present when your child returns to the classroom. Many students are also adapting to virtual schooling part-time or full-time due to COVID-19. This can cause additional stress that may threaten your son’s or daughter’s recovery.

With that in mind, it’s important to be prepared with some healthy coping strategies. Here are some potential triggers and how to work through them without jeopardizing recovery.

An Overwhelming Workload

Schoolwork can become overwhelming, especially for students who are driven to achieve high grades. If your son or daughter recently took a break from school to enter treatment, this can cause even more academic difficulty. When an individual is under a lot of stress, they may feel like turning back to the old eating disorder behaviors they once used to handle stress.

How to Help Your Child Cope:

  • Make a list of healthy coping mechanisms that your son/daughter can use in place of eating disorder behaviors. For example, journaling, meditating, spending some time in nature, or taking a bath are all positive coping strategies.
  • Talk to your child’s teachers and the school administration and let them know what accommodations your son/daughter needs to succeed.
  • Encourage your child to take advantage of tutoring and other academic resources the school offers.

Resuming Sports

For children who played sports before entering recovery, it might be too early to start playing again. The intense training schedule and the physical demands of a particular sport may trigger compulsive exercising and/or food restrictions.

How to Help Your Child Cope:

  • Talk to your child’s treatment team about when it’s safe to start playing sports again.
  • If unable to resume sports, encourage your child to find other activities they enjoy.
  • Work with a nutritionist to adjust your child’s diet once they start playing sports again.

Peer Comparisons

School is an opportunity to socialize and make new friends, but being around peers again can also prompt your child to start comparing themselves to others. This can trigger some of the same fears they’ve had in the past about not being the “ideal” size and shape.

How to Help Your Child Cope:

  • Identify specific triggers (like social media) and then limit them as much as possible. For example, you might install an app on your child’s phone that tracks social media usage.
  • Emphasize gratitude and encourage your child to focus on what they like about themselves. Focusing on gratitude and positive qualities will lessen the impact of comparisons.
  • Consider taking your child to a therapist, even if they’ve completed a formal treatment program. Try to find a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a type of therapy that focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts.

Isolation from Virtual Schooling

For many students, the 2020 school season is even more stressful than usual. Some schools are doing all virtual schooling or a hybrid of virtual and in-person. While this is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the isolation from virtual schooling may worsen eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. It’s important to keep an eye on your child’s eating habits and other behaviors to make sure they aren’t relapsing.

How to Help Your Child Cope:

  • Encourage your son/daughter to connect with friends online after school hours.
  • Plan safe, socially distanced activities for your child to look forward to.
  • Encourage your child to call, text, or video chat with members of his/her support network.

Back-to-school season can cause a lot of stress for students who are recovering from an eating disorder. Fortunately, there are effective coping mechanisms. If your child is struggling with a relapse, it may be beneficial to enroll in a structured outpatient program. This is a great next step for anyone who has completed inpatient or residential eating disorder treatment. Call Seeds of Hope at (610) 644-6464  to inquire about our outpatient programs for your child.


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