Help with Eating disorders –advice from ANAD
25th August 2017
Did you know that at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S and every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from this? These shocking figures, recorded by the Eating Disorders Coalition, express how important it is to help identify if a child has an eating disorder and to prevent it. This is why, here at Impero, we have partnered with the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Inc. (ANAD), an organisation dedicated to help with eating disorders, alleviating suffering and providing support for those afflicted in the United States.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background. They include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, as well as eating disorders that do not entirely match the diagnostic criteria for these, but are equally serious. These may be diagnosed as “Eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS) or “Other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED).
causes of eating disorders
Eating disorders can develop as a result of a huge number of factors. Many, including bullying, peer pressure, troubles with friendships, and stress, can be found within the school environment. New students may be vulnerable, as times of upheaval like changing schools can also play a role. There is a need to eliminate these factors, in order to help with eating disorders.
crucial eating disorder traits to look out for
Behavior such as missing meals or purging may be more easily carried out at school than at home, and some warning signs might come through in school work or behavior. For example, personality traits often associated with sufferers of anorexia include perfectionism, need for control, and hyper-sensitivity to criticism. Anorexia may impact concentration and decision-making, and all eating disorders can cause tiredness, depression, and anxiety.
This doesn’t mean everyone with these eating disorder traits has a problem, and not everyone with an eating disorder will exhibit these signs and symptoms. However, these are things to look out for in order to be able to help with eating disorders, along with the terms that could be flagged by Impero’s software.
approaching someone you’re worried about
Eating disorders are difficult to broach. Like other mental illnesses, they are surrounded
by misconceptions, stigma and stereotypes. They also manifest in behavior that the person may hide due to shame or fear of judgment. On the other hand, the sufferer may not realize their eating disorder traits or want to admit there’s anything wrong.
The person who speaks with a student should be someone the student knows, trusts, and may feel able to open up to. Whether this is someone within the school environment or whether a parent or caregiver is involved should be a decision made about students as individuals. If it is a staff member, it should be someone trained to deal with vulnerable young people.
key things to remember when speaking to a student to help with eating disorders
- The purpose is not to diagnose an eating disorder, but having a concern about a student based on common eating disorder traits and symptoms they are displaying is enough to initiate a conversation.
- Make sure the conversation is private, safe, and nonthreatening. Don’t get angry or accusatory – if the student does have an eating disorder, they haven’t done anything wrong.
- Avoid mentioning food or weight, and don’t comment on their appearance. Remember that eating disorders are about emotional issues.
- Be clear about the staff role and responsibility from the start, and share concern for the student. Offer one or two observations about behavior that have caused concern. Be careful not to list too many things, as the student may feel they have been “watched”.
- Avoid direct questions relating to eating disorders. Use open questions to encourage the student to talk, and show empathy and support.
- Be aware that they may be angry or upset when help is offered. They may feel like their secret has been uncovered, or their life is being unnecessarily interfered with. If they are not open to talking, offer them some resources to look at in their own time to help with eating disorders.
- Do not make judgements and do not make promises that can’t be kept, such as confidentiality.
- The student may confide that they are concerned about their own behavior and ask for support. Ask the student what kind of support they would like, advise about the limitations of a counselling role, and explore if they have told anyone else.
- Encourage the student to seek further support. Ideally, they should talk with a professional with expertise in diagnosing eating disorders. It would be preferable if a family member was informed, but again, this decision is best made on an individual basis.
supporting a student with an eating disorder
Often students undergoing treatment are still able to attend school, and there are things that should be done to ensure they are safe and comfortable.
- Inform staff members and keep them updated. Hospital appointments and other parts of treatment may mean the student is sometimes late or needs to leave early, and they shouldn’t be quizzed in front of others.
- Teachers may need to consider the student’s needs when planning lessons, as references to body image or food can be triggering.
- People with eating disorders often have low self-esteem, so anything that can build their self-worth may help with eating disorders.
- It may be necessary to make special arrangements around mealtimes, such as allowing a parent or guardian to be present to help.
- Involve the student in decisions about how the school will help. Ask about their needs – they may have ideas that haven’t been presented in conversation with a staff member.
- Ensure there is always someone for them to confide in.
- Make sure anyone involved in the student’s recovery, including staff, friends, and siblings at the school, has access to the support they need as well.
For more information on how to help with eating disorders, advice and tips about eating disorders and eating disorder traits, visit ANAD’s website, or click on the following links for free support services that ANAD offer:
For more advice from some of our other online safety partners and a best practice framework for implementing a monitoring system in schools, download our Online Safety Handbook and read some of our other guest blogs.