Eating disorders are serious, and life-threatening, mental illnesses that impact millions of school-age students across the country. While school faculty can play an important role in supporting students suffering from eating disorders, these cases must be handled delicately. Read on to learn how to support your student with an eating disorder.
As school faculty, your first priority is ensuring the well-being of your students. Unfortunately, this responsibility sometimes requires you to make difficult decisions. And have uncomfortable conversations for the sake of your students.
However, in order to best serve your students, it’s important to understand the severity of eating disorders. Following opioid addiction, eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, and as such must be taken seriously. But just like when dealing with any addiction, people suffering from eating disorders should also be approached with compassion.
How to Support a Student with an Eating Disorder
People with eating disorders are often acting from a place of fear, rather than logic. As a result, it would be unfair to expect them to make “healthy” decisions about their body. It’s important that you don’t judge, blame, or patronize your student for their mistakes. You want to create a safe, judgment-free environment for your students, one where they feel comfortable opening up to you about their problems. Once your student confides in you, you can encourage them to confide in others and to seek help.
What if My Student Resists Help?
However, you may find that your student is resistant to any outside help. They may be scared or even unaware that they have a problem. Again the key is to be persistent, while also being respectful of the student’s boundaries. If they’re unwilling to open up to you, ask if it’s alright to talk to their parents or counselor. Of course, there may come a time where you might have to go against your student’s wishes for the sake of their health, but the goal should always be to work with the student if possible.
We know that this can be a daunting task, so we’ve compiled a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” for how to best approach a student with an eating disorder.
- Ask to talk to your student privately
- Use “I” statements to describe any behaviors you’ve observed and are concerned about (ex: difficulty focusing, decreased academic performance)
- End the conversation if the student gets upset
- It’s better to walk away and leave the door open for future conversations
- Be supportive and non-judgmental if your student chooses to confide in you
- Ask permission to talk to their parents
- Add a caveat that if their life or wellbeing is at risk, you don’t need their permission
- Report concerns to the proper staff at your school
- Call your student out in front of class
- Comment on their diet, appearance, or body size
- Pressure your student to open up to you
- Allow your student to tell you however much information they want, when they want
- Agree to keep secrets for your student
- You may have to report your concerns to others against the student’s wishes
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 that can serve as valuable resources for learning more about eating disorders and treatment options.
For more information, contact us at Courage to Nourish today. Our eating disorder dietitian nutritionists are located in College Park, Maryland. and Columbia, Maryland. As well as Alexandria, Virginia. Colorado. and Pennsylvania. Read more about the Courage to Nourish team. We’d love to support you in eating disorder recovery.
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.