Here are a few things to consider when determining whether seeking eating disorder treatment during winter break is right for you.

Academic calendars can vary, but winter break is typically a two-week period that starts around the Christmas holiday and lasts through the new year. It can be an excellent time for students to decompress, reconnect with their families, and check in with themselves. The fall is often a white-knuckle ride through packed academic schedules, exams, and academic stress, especially for college students in their first year. This is a period of transition, with academic pressures, the stress of making friends in a new environment, and adjusting to new expectations. For college students living in dorms, being on their own and without the oversight and familiarity of the family structure for the first time can create a perfect storm for eating disorders. One study found that 13.5% of women and 3.6% of men enrolled in college had symptoms of disordered eating, such as anorexia and bulimia, and the prevalence of eating disorders among college students seems to be on the rise.

Is winter break the right time to seek treatment? These questions will help determine whether winter break might be a good option.

What kind of eating disorder treatment is needed?

Eating disorder treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. When discussing eating disorder treatment, it’s important to consider the level of treatment needed.

  • Residential Treatment. This treatment option entails 24-hour care from professionals who are trained in treating eating disorders. Residential treatment can provide the care needed for people who may require specialized medical care, or who would benefit from a more structured environment. In residential treatment programs, individuals remain at the center during the day and at night, allowing them to work closely with their treatment team on their recovery and build skills that will help them cope after treatment.
  • Outpatient TreatmentOutpatient treatment is a less intensive option for people who do not need round-the-clock care and the structure of live-in eating disorder treatment. Outpatient is often used to help those in recovery from an eating disorder transition out of residential or partial hospital programs and back into their daily lives. However, it can also be appropriate for people who do not need to be hospitalized, or who need the flexibility to schedule treatment around obligations like school or work. Outpatient treatment may not include medical care or nutrition services, so that’s important to consider as well.
  • Partial Hospital Programs. Partial Hospital Programs (PHP) are a halfway point between residential and outpatient treatment. Sometimes known as a “day program,” people in a partial hospital program might spend all day in treatment and then return to their own homes at night. This can help people in recovery transition out of residential treatment, but it’s also an option for individuals who may need more flexibility and don’t require residential treatment.

Working with doctors and therapists can help determine which type of eating disorder treatment is best suited to your needs.

Is it more affordable for me to seek treatment during winter break?

Eating disorder treatment is usually covered by insurance, but it can be beneficial to seek eating disorder treatment during winter break, or toward the end of the year. That’s because insurance deductibles reset after January 1st. If an insurance deductible has already been met, seeking treatment during winter break can dramatically reduce the out-of-pocket costs of treatment. And that’s not all: people whose insurance coverage includes flex-spending accounts (FSAs) may actually have access to funds that do not roll over to the new year. There’s a reason FSAs are often called “use it or lose it” accounts!

This is not always the case, so it’s essential to understand whether there is a benefit to seeking treatment during winter break based on your insurance plan and deductible.

Will I benefit from using time off from school to go into treatment?

School is stressful enough, but missing school due to eating disorder treatment can be even more stressful. And having work and exams to make up can make it harder to return to the daily grind after treatment. Utilizing time off from school to address an eating disorder can be a smart way to use that time, and ensure that students are able to start the next semester off strong, with support from a treatment team and family in place.

Of course, seeking treatment during winter break also means taking time away from family, friends, and much-needed down time. Those things are important too, for physical and mental health, so it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons.

Will seeking treatment during winter break help me in the new year?

The beginning of a new year can be a time thick with meaning and symbolism, and starting the new year off in recovery from an eating disorder can be meaningful. Eating disorder treatment will help people with eating disorders build skills, develop a support network, and feel more empowered in their daily lives. And who wouldn’t want to start a new semester at school and a new year with those things?

The new year can also be a time when cultural messaging around dieting, fitness, and New Year’s Resolutions are particularly strong, even unavoidable. Getting treatment during winter break can help people with eating disorders deal with those messages (which can be persistent and difficult to tune out) and find support if the cultural focus on dieting starts to affect one’s recovery. So, going into treatment during winter break can help those with eating disorders combat those messages and stay on the path toward healing their relationships with their bodies and food.

Does the time of year matter for seeking treatment?

The bottom line is that eating disorders are serious, and getting help sooner rather than later will make the odds of successful treatment much higher. While there may be specific benefits to getting treatment during winter break, it’s important for people with eating disorders to receive care as soon as possible. Getting help right away, regardless of the time of year, can be more important than being able to schedule treatment during winter break.