College Eating Disorders

Maybe your young adult with a history of an eating disorder is going off to college and you want to ensure they have continued support. Maybe you are a college student who has noticed an increase in obsessive thoughts about food or exercise. Maybe you are a college student who has been referred for outpatient counseling by your college counseling center. Or maybe you are a parent whose young adult came home from break and you observed they’d lost weight or are eating a narrower range of foods. Learn more about warning signs to watch for in your college student. We specialize in the treatment of eating disorders and our therapists can help.

We provide therapy at the outpatient level of treatment. This may not be appropriate for people who are significantly below a healthy weight for their body unless they have support during most meals of the week. If a college student is significantly below a healthy weight and does not have support at meals, they may need a higher level of care such as a partial hospitalization program or residential treatment program. This is because eating enough to gain weight is so very hard when one is under-nourished, harder than you would think.

Alternatively, some parents will encourage their young adults to take a break from college and move home. For families that reside in California, we can provide Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for young adults. We will do an assessment and help you and your college student determine if we can provide the appropriate level of support.

Therapy for college students with eating disorders in California

Eating Disorders in College

College is a time of major transition and also a time when mental health problems, including eating disorders, are likely to emerge for the first time. College brings a lot of stressors including living away from parents for the first time, living with new peers, less personal space and privacy, new social pressures, a new eating environment, drugs and alcohol, and increased academic pressures. Our therapists understand these pressures and challenges and have a lot of experience supporting college students struggling with eating disorders, disordered eating, body image issues, anxiety, depression, and relationship issues.

Even a college with the best mental health resources will not have the staff to provide ongoing treatment for all of their students’ mental health needs; students will be referred to providers in the community. Furthermore, they will never be able to provide the same level of accountability and oversight that a parent provides.  This is why we encourage family involvement in the treatment of college students.

It is estimated that eating disorders affect 11% to 17% of female college students and 4% of male college students. Even greater numbers of college students—from 20% to 67% —will experience eating disorder symptoms, but not qualify for a full diagnosis (Grammer at al., 2020). The rates of eating disorders are even higher among trans college students, who may experience disordered eating at a rate four times the rate of their cisgender classmates (Diemer et al., 2015). Eating disorders often occur alongside other mental health disorders including depression and anxiety.

Therapy for College Students with Eating Disorders

Our therapy for college students is based on either Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for adults who are motivated and able to independently work towards recovery, or Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for those who need more support around eating and “pulling” into recovery by their parents or other supports. With college students, we always try to obtain releases of information so we can keep parents apprised of significant changes in health. If you are reaching out on behalf of a college student, please ask them to complete one.

Licensure is by state. Most states require that therapists—even those providing video sessions—be licensed to practice in the state where the client is at the time of the session. We can work with college students in our office in Los Angeles or virtually when they are physically in the state of California. Colleges local to our office include the University of Southern California (USC), University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Occidental College, Cal State LA, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount University (LMU).

We are in-network with Aetna, which is the student insurance for USC, and with Anthem, which provides health insurance for all the University of California schools. We have worked remotely with students at UC Irvine, UC Davis, Pomona College, UCSF, UCSD, and Stanford University, among others. We also have some therapists licensed in a few other states including New York, Indiana, and South Carolina. If you live in one of these states and your young adult goes to college in California, or if you reside in California and your young adult goes to college in one of these states, we may be able to provide support in both locations.

If you are a college student in California and are looking for individual therapy, please reach out. Our therapists can help determine whether outpatient therapy is appropriate. We can also help put together a full treatment team with a dietitian and a medical doctor. After a full assessment, we collaborate with you on establishing treatment goals. We can help you to break cycles of disordered eating, eat more regularly, and find peace with food. We can help address bingeing, purging, overexercise, and body image concerns. We can also provide treatment for anxiety and depression and concerns like perfectionism and self-esteem issues.

Our individual therapy approach is rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy, which works to identify and modify problematic behaviors and thoughts. Your therapist works on an individualized treatment plan with you. Therapy often includes keeping food or mood logs, learning skills, facing scary situations instead of avoiding them, and doing homework.

Sending a Young Adult with an Eating Disorder History to College

If you are a parent of a young adult with an eating disorder who is preparing to go to college, we encourage you to review our college readiness guide. We encourage six months of stable recovery before sending them to college. We also encourage parents sending young adults with a history of an eating disorder to college to consider developing a college contract.

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