The Value of Outpatient Support for College Students with Eating Disorders
Nicole Siegfried, Ph.D., CEDS; Chief Clinical Officer
As parents, it’s natural to worry about your child when you send them to college. But for parents whose child has or has had an eating disorder, this fear grows exponentially. Fortunately, Alsana’s flexible intensive outpatient programming can help college students keep their symptoms in check without leaving school.
Eating Disorder Development and Relapse in College
Research shows that eating disorders often develop during times of transition. Similarly, relapse back into eating disorder behaviors are common in transition periods. Students are also dealing with the added stressors of classes, academic demands, meals, social obligations, and learning to manage their finances. With all these changes and stressors, it’s not surprising that eating disorder symptoms such as binge-eating, restricting, purging, and over-exercising often intensify with the return to college.
When your child is struggling with an eating disorder, you will do anything to help them recover. Yet at the same time, you may have some conflicting feelings about what’s truly best for them. You don’t want them to miss out on college experiences or the benefits of a college education. You may tell yourself that your loved one will improve when they get through those first few weeks and get settled in their new college routine.
Students also tend to minimize their symptoms with the hope that “things will get better.” In some cases, delaying treatment can actually be a symptom of the eating disorder. Individuals with eating disorders tend to minimize the severity of their symptoms and magnify the barriers to treatment due to ambivalence about treatment and recovery. When treatment is delayed, symptoms often reach a level where more intensive treatment is required that does not allow them to stay in school.
Help for College Students with Eating Disorders
If your child is displaying eating disorder symptoms or is returning to school after treatment, an intensive outpatient program can help them manage symptoms while staying in school. Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) offer therapeutic and nutritional support a few hours a day, a few days a week. This programming offers a good amount of support without removing the student from daily activities such as school and work.
Alsana’s Flexible IOP Programming
At Alsana, we are committed to meeting the needs of our clients, wherever they’re at in their process. Our St. Louis, MO, Birmingham, AL, and Westlake Village, CA locations offer flexible IOP hours 7 days a week. College students with eating disorders can choose 4-hour blocks from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm Monday-Friday, and 7:00 am – 3:00 pm Saturdays and Sundays. This allows students to choose times for treatment that don’t interfere with their school schedule, or when they need additional support.
On programming days, clients receive group therapy, sessions with a therapist or dietitian, meal planning, and meal support. In many cases, this level of support is enough for students to remain in school and continue with their life outside of treatment. In addition, clients in our flexible IOP may also participate in a free virtual college support group each week that is offered only to Alsana clients.
Signs That IOP is Right for Your Loved One
There are several signs that families should look for that their college student may be a good candidate for flexible IOP programming for their eating disorder:
- Just stepped down from a more intensive level of care (e.g., Residential, Partial Hospitalization)
- Symptoms have escalated since returning to school
- Symptoms are interfering with life functioning
- History of relapse when returning to school
- Co-occurring symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression) that intensify with return to school
- Symptoms are at a level that client is appropriate for IOP treatment (i.e., symptoms can be contained with IOP treatment)
- Client is medically stable
We encourage families and students with eating disorders to reach out to us as soon as they notice an escalation in eating disorder symptoms. With early and appropriate intervention full recovery from an eating disorder is not only possible, but also probable. Research shows that the majority of individuals with eating disorders recover and that the probability of recovery increases with early intervention. Attending treatment at a program like our flexible IOP allows clients to receive timely treatment, which may prevent the need for more intensive treatment.
Help Your Loved One Recover While Continuing Education
We want your child to be successful, both in their recovery and in their education. If you feel our flexible IOP programming in Alabama and Missouri would be beneficial in their process, give us a call. Our admissions counselors are here to answer your questions and help you determine the best course of action for your child. You can reach us by filling out a form or calling us at (855) 915-0213. We can’t wait to hear from you!