top of page
  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Unlocking Understanding: Supporting Students with Eating Disorders

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Dear educators and support staff, welcome to a vital conversation that will empower you to make a positive impact on your students' lives.

Today, we dive into the world of eating disorders – a topic that demands everyone's attention and understanding. By recognizing the signs, initiating compassionate conversations, safeguarding your students, and guiding them toward appropriate help and services, you can become beacons of support.

So, let's embark on this lively journey of discovery and equip ourselves with the knowledge to make a difference.

1 .Recognizing the Signs: Decoding the Clues In this section, we'll explore the various signs that may indicate a student is grappling with an eating disorder. Obviously these signs can be perfectly innocent, especially in isolation, but taken within the context of other behaviours can be helpful clues.

  • Look out for physical indicators like weight loss: I have to say at this point that visible weight loss isn't always present. It's important to remember people can have anorexia in any body size. Another sign can be wearing baggy clothes and being reluctant to take them off, even when it would be appropriate, such as in hot weather; a student who is constantly cold, hugging the radiator, wearing big jumpers even in mild weather and just never seeming to warm up. Changes in appearance may become apparent, such as developing a thin layer of soft, downy hair all over the body or noticeably dry and blotchy skin; another change to the skin can be marks or callouses developing on the knuckles or back of the hand. Changes in energy levels, dizzy spells or finding it challenging to walk up stairs and general fatigue.

  • Behavioural cues such as secretive eating, making excuses to not eat when food is around, deconstructing food, eating really slowly or very fast, disappearing to the loo quickly after eating or having rituals around eating can all be indicators of an eating disorder. Excessive or driven exercise can also provide valuable insights. Excessive neatness or decreasing handwriting size can be other indicators. Moreover, pay attention to emotional and psychological signs like body image fixation, obsessive and perfectionistic behaviour, anxiety, and depression. By understanding these signs, you'll be better equipped to intervene early and offer the support needed.

2. The Power of Conversation: Fostering Trust and Empathy Initiating conversations with students about eating disorders requires a delicate approach. It's important to creating a safe and non-judgemental environment, using active listening skills, and employing open-ended questions to encourage dialogue. Cultivating the art of empathy and working to establish trust can have a transformative effect on your students' willingness to share their struggles. Remember, your genuine concern and understanding can make all the difference.

There are many areas of the curriculum where topics related to eating disorders can be included. Personal, Social Health and Economic Education (PSHE), media studies, physical education, drama and creative work all provide opportunities. Including emotional literacy, building resilience and positive body image into lessons is particularly useful, as is covering media literacy and the way images are digitally manipulated in advertising.

Individual pupils with eating disorders will require particular attention to their educational and pastoral needs. It may be necessary to adapt the learning environment to accommodate reduced physical strength or concentration span.

3.Supporting with Sensitivity: A Compassionate Journey Once you've established open lines of communication, it's crucial to provide ongoing support. Collaborating with a multidisciplinary team consisting of school counsellors, nurses, and parents is essential. By developing an individualized plan for each student, promoting healthy relationships with food and body image, and encouraging positive coping mechanisms, we can actively foster a nurturing environment. Moreover, let's explore how educating peers can create a supportive community where no student feels alone in their battle.

  • Safeguarding Students: A Promise of Protection Safeguarding our students involves understanding the importance of confidentiality, building trust, and differentiating between support and therapy. We'll explore the legal obligations and reporting procedures that ensure we respond appropriately to critical situations. By learning to identify crisis scenarios and providing immediate assistance, we can truly be the pillars of strength our students need.

  • Signposting to Help and Services: Guiding the Way Connecting students with appropriate help and services is a vital aspect of our role. We'll discover local and national resources such as eating disorder helplines, counselling services, and treatment centres. Collaborating with healthcare professionals like doctors, psychologists, specialist therapists and dieticians can provide students with the comprehensive care they deserve. Additionally, involving parents and guardians in this journey creates a support network that can make a world of difference.

Congratulations, esteemed educators and support staff! By immersing ourselves in this engaging, and informative discussion, we have taken an essential step toward supporting our students who may be battling eating disorders. Armed with the ability to recognize the signs, initiate compassionate conversations, safeguard our students, and signpost them to appropriate help and services, we can be catalysts of change. Together, let's create a culture that promotes understanding, empathy, and support for all our students. By doing so, we unlock their potential to thrive in all aspects of life.

Cate provides talks and workshops on request. Get in touch to learn more or to arrange.


bottom of page