Are you about to go to college, or in college right now? Have you been struggling with eating disorders or disordered behavior? How can big life changes lead to changes in eating, and how can you mediate them so that they can remain level, healthy, and intentional? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks with Ilona Phillips about her experience of the college years and eating disorders.


Ilona teaches skills and shares essential resources for families and carers of children, teens, and adults with eating disorders, helping caregivers take control back with confidence and a clear plan, significantly improving treatment outcomes.

Ilona has been a psychotherapist and a coach for the last two decades. She has had the privilege of working with hundreds of clients, families, and organizations with a variety of mental health concerns and wellness initiatives. Visit Ilona's website and connect on Instagram and YouTube. FREEBIE: Get this high-impact meal and snack guide!


  • Learning how to advocate for yourself 
  • Utilize tools like chain analysis 
  • Ilona’s advice to suffering and recovering ED listeners in college

Learning how to advocate for yourself 

College is tough, and it’s not only tough when it comes to moving away from home or managing your academics, but in the sense that you need to start advocating for yourself in social settings where you learn to choose your needs over the group's direction.  There will be times when your friends all want to do something, and you may join them when you’re unsure.  But, when you need something or would prefer to do something else, you need to learn how to advocate for yourself instead of always joining with the group, because otherwise, you will lose yourself in the pursuit of validation from others. 
It’s such a common theme for eating disorders … One of the things that I tend to tell my clients frequently is, ‘Stay in your lane/ You’ve got to focus on your lane’. (Ilona Phillips)

Utilize tools like chain analysis 

Ilona explains that sometimes clients can feel like the situations that they are in have come seemingly out of the blue, and suddenly occurred in their lives.  With something like chain analysis, clients can work with a practitioner (or with self-compassion on their own) to trace their lives back over what happened in the previous days or weeks that have placed them in this present situation. 
The trust is [that] nothing happens out of the blue, right? So we will go 72 hours, sometimes more, back to see what [their] eating looked like, what kinds of behaviors were present … and then we unpack step by step the thoughts, the behaviors, and basically, ‘How did we get here?’ (Ilona Phillips)
Chain analysis is a strategy from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and it is very effective as a tool to trace, identify, and understand the cause-and-effect pattern that places them in the situation that they are in.  Ultimately, this tool allows them to understand that their choices can have an impact on their lives, and so learning how to make intentional choices and behaviors can be an empowering understanding and lead to positive change. 

Ilona’s advice to suffering and recovering ED listeners in college

If you are a student going to college, or you are a parent with a child struggling with ED, why go to college now? The symptoms of ED are not going to improve under pressure, as Ilona explains. 
We need to remember it’s just for now … As you and I both know, treating anything chronic is much more difficult … This is your chance, so if your kid is really struggling, pull them out. I know that’s not going to be the favorite or popular option, but they can return let’s say three or six months later and then really give it their all. (Ilona Phillips) 
If you or your child is actively struggling with ED, let them first recover, or at least to the point where they can function on their own without fully relapsing or getting worse.  College is always going to be there, so you need to focus on your health.  Prioritize your mental and physical health and then go to college, because then you’ll enjoy it more - as well as the fact that you’ll give yourself the chance to also do well, and challenge yourself without putting yourself at risk.  There are also resources available - there’s more help than you might think. Some colleges offer medical services, access, and funding for those who qualify and need it. 



I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "Hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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