Should teachers learn about eating disorders?
In this blog post, we will answer the question “should teachers learn about eating disorders?” and look at why it is important for teachers to learn about eating disorders. We will also look at what eating disorders are and the symptoms that the teachers can look out for. Finally, we will look at the treatment options for eating disorders and prevention measures for eating disorders.
Should teachers learn about eating disorders?
Yes, it is very important for teachers to have information on eating disorders. This will help them identify cases of disordered eating among their students before it becomes full-blown. It is possible for some symptoms to go unnoticed.
The cases of eating disorders have been on the rise, with adolescents being affected the most. Research has shown that most of the people diagnosed with eating disorders had their onset in childhood and adolescence. Teachers and educators can be a powerful force in identifying and finding the best support for the learners affected.
Since teachers spend a good amount of time with learners, they can help parents identify students that need help with disordered eating and also teach the learners about preventative measures for eating disorders.
We will now look at what eating disorders are and the different types of eating disorders educators should look out for.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are mental illnesses characterized by abnormal eating habits, and complex and damaging relationships between food, exercise and body image that impairs physical and mental health.
Eating disorders are also known to cause death. In fact, about one person dies every hour as a direct result of an eating disorder. (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2016)
Types of eating disorders
According to the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders fifth edition (DSM-5), there are six types of eating disorders. Obesity is no longer included as an eating disorder since it results from long-term excess energy intake relative to energy expenditure.
A range of genetics, physiological, behavioural, and environmental factors that vary across individuals contribute to the development of obesity; thus, obesity is not a mental disorder. (Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders fifth edition 2013).
The six eating disorders are;
Pica is a feeding and eating disorder characterized by eating non-nutritive non-food substances such as ice, clay, soil, paper and stones. Can be caused by nutrition deficiencies, pregnancy, stress and cultural factors.
It is an eating disorder characterized by spitting up digested or partially digested food from the stomach, re-chewing the food and either re-swallowing or spitting it out. It tends to occur within 30 minutes of every meal. The causes of rumination remain unknown.
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.
Formally referred to as selective eating disorder, is an eating disorder characterized by intense restriction or selection of food consumed. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with this eating disorder are not interested in their body image, shape or size.
Is a severe eating disorder characterized by abnormal body weight, distorted body image, and unwarranted fear of gaining weight. In order to prevent weight gain, anorexic people try to control their body weight by vomiting food, using laxatives, diet aids, and excessive exercise.
Common symptoms include extreme low body weight, dizziness, insomnia, fatigue, dry skin, hair that easily falls off, preoccupation with food, skipping meals, refusing to eat, denying hunger, complaints of being overweight, measuring weight often and lying about the quantity of food taken.
Causes include; biological factors such as genes, psychological factors such as temperaments and environmental factors such as societal demands.
Usually begins during the teenage and early adulthood years. It is more common in women than in men.
Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness. One study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to commit suicide than people without an eating disorder. (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2016).
Is a mental disorder characterized by binge eating (consuming large quantities of food over a short period of time) followed by calorie-reducing strategies such as purging (induced vomiting), fasting and excessive exercise.
Bulimia is a severe, life-threatening eating disorder. Symptoms include; binge eating, vomiting, self-harm, fatigue, dehydration, avoiding food, irregular and absence of menstruation, constipation, heartburn and guilt.
Causes include genetic factors, psychological factors such as personality, dieting and societal pressure.
Binge eating disorder.
Binge eating is an eating disorder characterized by consuming large amounts of food over a short period of time, and feelings of being unable to stop eating even when full. It is the most common eating disorder with a prevalence of 5.5%.
Symptoms include; eating large amounts of food over a short period of time, eating even when not hungry, feeling that your eating behaviour is out of control, eating until you are uncomfortably full, eating in secret, eating alone and feelings of depression and guilt.
Unlike people with bulimia, binge eaters are not concerned with weight reduction through vomiting, using laxatives or excessive exercise and can thus suffer from other physical conditions such as obesity.
It is more common in women than in men and usually begins during early adulthood. Causes include dieting and psychological issues such as depression and low self-esteem.
Warning signs of eating disorders that can be observed in the classroom
- Wearing baggy clothes
- Feeling cold
- Sleeping in class
- Low energy and trouble concentrating
- Not participating in food-related activities
- Compulsive exercise and walking
- Frequent illness
- Excessive water intake
Ways of preventing eating disorders
Teachers and educators can help in preventing eating disorders among their learners through:
You are more than what your body looks like
Help the learners to get rid of the notion that a certain body weight, shape or diet will lead to happiness and fulfilment.
Educate them about eating disorders
Help the learners realize eating disorders as this will help them avoid myths about eating disorders and avoid negative judgement and attitudes about certain foods and body sizes. It will also help them identify symptoms of ED them or their friends are presenting with and seek help before it becomes full-blown.
Challenge negative thoughts and ideas
Help them make the choice to avoid beliefs that losing weight and being skinny is healthy while adding weight is unhealthy and a sign of laziness and unworthiness. If you find yourself having these negative thoughts, seek therapy to find the root causes of the thoughts.
Avoid categorizing foods
A well-balanced diet includes whole foods but also allows room to enjoy all kinds of food in moderation. Avoid labelling food as bad, dangerous, good and safe.
Do not judge others based on body weight
Help the learners understand that a person’s weight is not an indicator of their health, personality, or character. Avoid judging people from how they look and if you constantly judge people from how they look, then look for a professional therapist and address those issues.
Mute the media
Avoid letting what you see in the media influence how you behave and what you eat. Know how to filter information from the media that is not important or that is harmful to you. You also have a right to report material that you feel is making you feel bad about your body or stigmatize. You can also show support for programs that promote healthy living and acceptance of our bodies.
Value yourself based on achievements and success
How you look should not determine your value and affect your normal routine. Value yourself based on your goals, accomplishments, talents, and character. Focus on what your body can do and not what it looks like.
Express concerns gently to those you feel have or might be in danger of developing eating disorders
Be careful when expressing concerns regarding one’s eating habits. Be gentle but firm enough for the person to seek treatment. Be careful not to use insensitive words or label the person as fat or thin.
Treatment of eating disorders
Some antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors help in reducing episodes of binging and vomiting. They are also effective in treating depression and anxiety which are common co-occurring disorders among people with eating disorders.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of therapy which helps a person with eating disorders change their negative thinking patterns about their self-image to more positive ones. Therapy also helps them deal with the underlying causes and triggers of their eating disorders. Finally, therapists can help them develop positive coping mechanisms for their life stressors.
These will not only help you feel like you are not alone in the journey of recovering from eating disorders but will also give you a platform for free association where you can openly discuss the struggles of the illness without being ashamed or feeling guilty. Support groups also help in encouraging each other and keep one accountable.
This involves having sessions with a registered dietitian or counsellor on healthy eating habits to help you get back on track and avoid relapses.
In this blog, we have looked at why it is important for teachers and learners to know about eating disorders. We have looked at what eating disorders are, their types and their symptoms. We have also looked at the warning signs of eating disorders that teachers can detect in class.
Finally, we have looked at the preventative measures for eating disorders as well as treatment methods for those already affected. If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below.
Frequently asked questions: my teachers think I have an eating disorder
What qualifies you to have an eating disorder?
The characteristics of eating disorders include having a preoccupation with food and exercising which affects normal life routines, food-related anxiety, excessive eating or not eating at all, and drastic weight changes.
Can you be aware you have an eating disorder?
Some signs you can look out for to determine if you have an eating disorder include spending a lot of time worrying about how you look and eat, feeling guilty about what and how you eat and feeling guilty, ashamed or sorry for yourself for your eating patterns and body weight.
What are three warning signs of anorexia?
- You complain a lot about being fat
- You engage in extreme dieting and exercise routines
- You constantly worry about food, dieting, calories and your weight
- You pretend to be full when you are hungry
Alexander J., A Lesson for Teachers in Addressing the Eating Disorder Bully. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/lesson-teachers-addressing-eating-disorder-bully
Marie, (January 29, 2020). How to Identify and Help Students With Eating Disorders: A Guest Post. Retrieved from https://completeliterature.com/how-to-identify-and-help-students-with-eating-disorders-a-guest-post/
Healthline, 6 Common Types of Eating Disorders (and Their Symptoms). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/common-eating-disorders