Eating Disorders in Schools

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. For instance, they impact millions of school-age students across the country. We know that eating disorders typically develop during a child’s teenage years. Therefore, both middle schools and high schools can play a key role in screening for and preventing eating disorders among their student body.

We often think of school only as a place of education. In other words, a place where a child learns. However, school, particularly middle and high school, plays a much larger role in a child’s life. It’s where children begin to find their identity. As well as develop socially and emotionally. Not to mention physically and even politically. 

For many, this is an incredibly confusing and stressful time. Often made worse by the peer pressures throughout middle and high school. Together, these factors put middle and high school students at risk to the development of eating disorders. As a result of this risk, eating disorder prevention education is needed within all schools. Thus, administrators and teachers play an important role in promoting the health and wellbeing of their student body.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are surrounded by myths. These can make it more difficult for teachers, nurses, guidance counselors, etc. to effectively help their students. Below we have created a list of statistics and warning signs for eating disorders. These can be used to identify at-risk students or support students suffering from eating disorders on their recovery journey.

Statistics: 

  • Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders. Surpassed only by opioid addiction.
    • For instance, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to their same-aged peers.
  • Despite popular belief, eating disordered behaviors. Such as binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss. Are nearly as common among males as they are among females.
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is more than three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.
    • Therefore, BED is also more common than breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia.
  • In fact, by age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.
  • To emphasize, 62.3% of teenage girls and 28.8% of teenage boys report trying to lose weight. 58.6% of girls and 28.2% of boys are actively dieting. 68.4% of girls and 51% of boys exercise with the goal of losing weight or to avoid gaining weight.
  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors. Such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
  • Despite similar rates of eating disorders among non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians in the United States. People of color are significantly less likely to receive help for their eating issues.

(Statistics taken from NEDA website: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders).

Signs to look for:

-Teachers

  • Irritability.
  • Fatigue and lack of energy.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Decrease in academic performance.
  • Increased school absences.
  • Drastic physical changes.
  • Avoiding eating in class (during parties etc.)
  • Obsessively talking about food, exercise, weight etc.

-Nurses

  • Lethargy.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Absence of periods.
  • Dizziness and/or fainting.
  • Feeling cold all the time.
  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • Other: hoarse voice, brittle nails, tooth decay (consequences of vomiting regularly), swelling around area of salivary glands, visible veins, pale and/or dry skin, hair thinning.

-Guidance counselors

  • Psychological Signs
    • Low self-esteem. 
    • Self criticism. Such as dissatisfaction with physical appearance and general achievements; self deprecating comments such as “I’m so useless,” or “I’m such a freak” etc.
    • Anxiety, irritability, or displays of mood swings.
    • OR emotionless and “numb”. For example, rarely showing sadness, anger, joy, or pleasure.
    • Behavioral changes. Such as restlessness, unable to sit still, needs to feel productive. As well as obsessional symptoms. For instance tidying, cleaning, frequent hand washing.
  • Social Signs
    • Isolationist behaviors. Such as lack of interest in hobbies, ignoring friends, loss of relationships.
    • Academic problems. For example, neglecting assignments and classes. OR obsessed with academic success. Such as meticulous, diligent about receiving “good grades”.
    • Friends report unusual eating or exercise habits (friends expressing concern).
    • Reluctance to eat in public or disappearing after eating meals.
    • Exercising excessively. Even when injured or ill.

What to do if you think your student has an eating disorder?

If you suspect that your student has an eating disorder. Avoid making comments regarding the student’s weight or appearance. These may be triggering. Instead, gently try to check in with your student. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been a little quieter lately. How is everything going?”

If you feel that your student isn’t improving. And you are becoming more concerned about their health and well-being. We recommend discussing this issue with the student’s parents and guidance counselor. They can help the student receive professional, outside treatment. 

How Courage to Nourish can help

At Courage to Nourish, our team of eating disorder dietitians are trained to help people from all backgrounds. Including students, develop a more positive relationship with food. In addition to providing one-on-one counseling with clients, we offer family counseling and have several support groups. To help guide those with loved ones suffering from an eating disorder. If a student is suffering from an eating disorder, but the student’s family isn’t sure how to proceed, we offer consults to help develop treatment plans. We also have numerous handouts and blog posts posted on our website. These serve as valuable resources for learning more about eating disorders and treatment options.

Office Locations

Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland. and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Maryland. Virginia, Washington DC. Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.

Contact us for more information. And to schedule a discovery call. Also, sign up for our client or clinician newsletter!

leslie profile picture

Leslie Bredehoeft, Student Intern

Hi! I’m Leslie Bredehoeft and I’m an intern at Courage to Nourish. I am currently an undergraduate student at the College of William & Mary, majoring in Kinesiology with a concentration in Human Nutrition and minoring in English. After receiving my B.S. I plan to go to grad school to pursue an M.S. degree and become a registered dietitian. I, myself am in eating disorder recovery, which has not only opened my eyes to the pervasiveness of eating disorders, but also to the epidemic of nutrition misinformation within society. As a registered dietitian, I hope to educate my clients on the science of nutrition and help better their relationship with food.

 

registered dietitian for eating disorders

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