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Teens with Eating Disorders: A Classroom Concern

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 9/11/2012

What does it mean to have an eating disorder? Teens with eating disorders often struggle with many stressors, which may have a negative impact on their educational experience. If you have teenage students stop and read this article to learn about these disorders, and how to offer help.

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    It is on TV, in the magazines, and in the classroom. Young people, typically female, are exposed suffering from a teenager eating disorder. The subject of eating disorders should not be lightly passed over due to the negative health impact they have on the student as well as how a learning barrier could be created in the classroom due to the often obsessive nature of the disorder.

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    Eating Disorders

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health there are three categories of eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified, which includes variations of eating disorders. A person demonstrating characteristics likened to Anorexia Nervosa typically would be an individual who obsessively controls every calorie consumed in an attempt to lose an unhealthy amount of weight. A person who “binges" or eats obsessively huge amounts of food and then purges the contents shortly afterward, thereby not allowing their body to absorb the calories, could be described as having Bulimia Nervosa. Both disorders could be life-threatening if left ignored and untreated.

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    Common “Red-Flags"

    Teens with eating disorders may display warning signs or “red-flags," which may aid a teacher or a counselor in recognition. These “red-flags" are to act as a general guide; they are in no way definite examples of a person with an eating disorder and should not be taken literally. Doing so could risk over-looking students who may not display these behaviors listed, but are still in need of help.

    • Wears baggy or loose-fitting clothing to hide the amount of weight dropped
    • Isolates themselves from the rest of the class
    • Loses weight within a short period of time
    • Uses the bathroom frequently
    • Has a noticeable change in mental health status
    • Begins to use drugs or drug use increases
    • Noticeable changes in skin-tone, health of hair
    • May demonstrate loss of energy
    • Overheard discussing food control or extreme dieting procedures
    • Dropping out of after-school activities
    • Changes in grades or outlook on school towards the negative
    • Few friends, if any, outside of class

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    What to Do?

    If there is a student you suspect of having an eating disorder or may be developing an eating disorder you can and should offer help to the student. First and foremost if you are a teacher, follow protocol of your state and school district and notify the correct parties of your concerns. Referrals will probably need to be made to a Behavioral Health agency for a full evaluation to help determine the students risk to self and possible other underlying mental health disorders. Help for the student should come swiftly and can come in many different forms some of which are education on the topic of eating disorders, individual and group psychotherapy, psychotropic therapy, and support groups online for eating disorders. Learn what is available in your area.

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    A Classroom Concern

    Developing an eating disorder, like many mental health symptomologies, could create major problems in the classroom. As with noted examples above, if a student is having difficulty with their mental health status, their outlook and grades in school may suffer. In addition, with an eating disorder comes the serious risk of harm to self. Education on this topic puts teachers, parents, and counselors at a great advantage in offering help to the student. Although there may be many reasons for certain observed behaviors, the possibility of having teens with eating disorders in your classroom should never be overlooked.

Looking Deeper Into Issues Many Teenage Students Face

In this series you will find information on various teenage student issues that may cause barriers to learning in the classroom.
  1. Looking Deeper into Typical Teenage Behavioral Issues Students Face
  2. Signs of Domestic Violence in the Classroom
  3. Teens and Drug Use Impact on Learning
  4. Teens with Eating Disorders: A Classroom Concern
  5. Suicidal Ideations and Teenage Students