Eating Disorders

Submitted by: Amanda L. Morris

Chapter 2: Physical Development and Health

Morris_Amanda Ch2ConceptMap

There are three major types of eating disorders plaguing our students and young adults: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.  Anorexia can be described as, “A condition in which a child refuses to eat adequate calories out of an intense and irrational fear of becoming fat.” (Kam 2007)  This disorder causes a distorted body image and can lead to damage of vital organs, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, sensitivity and even death.  Bulimia is known as, “a condition in which a child grossly overeats (binging) and then purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain.”  (Kam 2007) It is similar to anorexia in that it can lead to an irregular heartbeat and other serious complications.  It can also cause damage to teeth and inflammation of the esophagus.  Binge eating is “a condition in which a child may gorge rapidly on food, but without purging.”  (Kam 2007)  Binge eating can lead to health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Although causes for eating disorders aren’t certain, it seems to be, “a combination of biological, behavioral, and social factors.” (Kam 2007)  Children may struggle with a fear of being overweight, helplessness, low self-esteem, and distress.  The disorders  tend to correlate with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.  Studies have shown that there are up to 24 million people suffering from an eating disorder.  It has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

“Not eating enough food or eating food and then throwing up can cause problems with growing and developing in a healthy way.” (New 2011)  Not only can it affect physical health, but mental as well.  It also has a severely negative impact on a child’s education.  Students become “listless, withdrawn, emotionally numb, unexpressive, disinterested in activities, anti-social, and incapable of concentrating.” (Harper)  This can lead to lower grades, failing, and negative behavior/defiance.

A teacher’s role:

Sometimes it can be difficult knowing how to address such a serious matter . Teachers have a lot of power in their role as a teacher. They can encourage counselors to start support groups, work one-on-one with students, and provide assemblies/presentations by outside professionals or students recovering from eating disorders. Recognizing the symptoms early can head off a much more serious/dangerous outcome.   Provide resources that students can look at on their own, or places students can turn to for help.  Understand that the eating disorder is a psychological and emotional pain.   Things that might make a normal student feel better might be a trigger to students with/developing an eating disorder.  It is important to be knowledgable about disorders so the disorders and damage can be minimized.

Resources

Eating disorders statistics. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/?gclid=CJbYtsLDoLkCFY5cMgodxQsATg

Harper, T. O. P. (n.d.). School, eating disorders, and academic achievement: A formula for failure. Retrieved from http://centerforchange.com/news-resources/newsletter/school-eating-disorders-and-academic-achievement-formula-failure

Kam, K. (2007, April 14). Eating disorders in children and teens. Retrieved from http://children.webmd.com/features/eating-disorders-children-teens

New, M. (2011, August). Kids and eating disorders. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/kid/health_problems/learning_problem/eatdisorder.html

Questions:

  1. What are some steps you can take in your role as a teacher?
  2. Have you seen signs of peer/media pressure to be thin?  Were the signs powerful? Why or why not?
  3. How prevalent do you believe eating disorders are in your work environment?
  4. Does this article make you want to change anything you are currently doing?
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7 Responses to Eating Disorders

  1. anonymous50 says:

    Have you seen signs of peer/media pressure to be thin? Were the signs powerful? Why or why not?

    Ironically, in a country that boasts more obesity than any other first-world nation, at 28.5%, (PBS NewsHour, April 11, 2013), the signs of pressure to be thin are pervasive throughout society, in the media, in families, and amongst peers. These influences are sometimes obvious and powerful, at other times subtle but equally harmful. The celebrities we emulate or reward with attention, the fashions we covet, the friendships we encourage, and the jokes that too often get the laughs all feed the stereotype that thin is in, and fat is bad. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine for whom these ‘signs’ will trigger a negative response that transmutes to an eating disorder. The same innocent comment, “Hey, you have a poochy tummy today,” can evoke a laugh in one recipient, anger in another, or an eating disorder in someone else. There are also many misconceptions about the manifestation of eating disorders, often making it difficult for laymen to identify who is suseptible or might be currently suffering from anorexia, binge eating, or bulimia. Despite conventional wisdom, not all rail-thin people are anorexic, not all ‘tubbies’ are binge eaters, and not all bulimics maintain a normal body weight. Many people who struggle with eating disorders maintain good grades, steady jobs, healthy families, and ‘normal’ lives, displaying (at least publicly) none of the tell-tale signs of anxiety, listlessness, unexpressiveness, or withdrawel so prevelant in the literature. Unfortunately, I know this firsthand, having suffered from eating disorders, from anorexia, to binge eating, and finally bulimia, for two-thirds of my life. (I now consider myself, a “recovering bulimic”, much like an acoholic.)

    So, as a teacher, I have learned not to rush to judgement. I listen carefully to how the students express themselves regarding themselves; I encourage self-esteem through actual accomplishments instead of empty praise — which is just as likely to lead to more pressure and less confidence (New York Magazine, August 3, 2007) as it is to ‘self-esteem’; and I disallow any negative references to anyone’s appearance, ever, by modeling positive commentary and support and ignoring (or privately reprimanding) anything else. And, when necessary, I approach the appropriate school authorities for intervention, while offering supportive understanding to the student and to the parents, who too often see their child’s emotional struggle as their failure or a cause for shame.

  2. Nicole Gaffney says:

    Great article Amanda!
    Eating disorders are a serious matter, and I believe teachers can be positive role models for children in every situation. In my young students, I don’t see eating disorders being very common in my work environment. However, I do my best to promote healthy choices by speaking of my love for exercise and eating good foods. They know how important my jogs are and see me bring my lunch to school. Sometimes, we talk about what I have to eat. I hope my students acquire an interest for some of these things as they grow older.
    Some other ways I promote positive images is through my praise. I like to give compliments on caring, responsible and respectful behavior. I never compliment someone on what they are wearing or how they look. I hope this allows my young students to see how important these powerful traits are. I think that if we can put an emphasis on these things pretty early, we can make an impact on now they view themselves later on.

  3. Have you seen signs of peer/media pressure to be thin? Were the signs powerful? Why or why not?

    In my second grade classroom, I had a student a couple of years ago that told me one day that she was on a diet. I told her that she was perfect the way she was. She continued to tell me that she was on a diet because her dad told her that she was fat. Whether or not her dad was serious, this 7 year old took it seriously and wanted to loose weight. She told me that she had already lost 5 pounds by just not eating. I immediately took the issue to our school counselor and he called the parents and took care of the situation. This was very eye opening to me. I never thought that I would have to deal with something like this with 2nd graders. It helped me realize that as a teacher, I need to compliment my students as often as possible to let them know how great they are. I need to set a good example for healthy eating and exercise. I need to be aware of what my students are eating and look for changes.

  4. Janet says:

    How prevalent do you believe eating disorders are in your work environment?

    I work in a middle school (6-8) and I believe it is more prevalent than we would like to hope. I don’t see it as much in 6th grade, but notice more concerning behavior in our 7th and 8th grade girls. At this age, the onset of puberty hits girls at various stages and they often feel uncomfortable in their bodies. There are a lot of comparisions being made and unfortunately, many self-depreciating comments can be heard within social conversations. As educators, I believe it is very important for us to keep a close eye on our students in order to recognize red flags regarding unhealthy eating habits. For example, there have been years when we have noticed a “trend” to not eat lunch within groups of girls. This behavior was reported to the counselor so she could discuss the behavior with the girls and educate them on the negative consequences that follow going a full day without eating. I agree that at this age our students often feel a loss of control, and for some students this is the one element of their lives they can control regardless of their environment. Therefore, I feel it is extremely important that we are providing our students with choices, the opportunities to be heard, and the understanding they have an important role and purpose in life. I always tell my students that they each bring their own “gifts to the table” to share with all of us and sometimes, we are going to need to help those that are struggling in unwrapping their gifts.

  5. anonymous50 says:

    Janet,
    Unfortunately, judging by the numbers of students (mostly girls, but sometimes boys) that I found myself “hearing out” in my middles school, I also believe these disorders are more prevalent than we would hope. And, I agree with you that adolescence is a time when, as these youngsters search for who they are and how to define themselves, there are a lot of comparisons, which leads to too much deprecation. Teachers like you, however, who provide what sounds like a supportive and encouraging environment in which students are recognized for their strengths and have a voice, do make a difference, though. You sound like you have a heart for these kids. How lucky for them!

  6. Mary Decker says:

    Another condition that I believe is very similar to eating disorders is self-injury. Like eating disorders, young people often participate in this behavior to gain some sort of control in their lives. I had an acquaintance who was a self-described “cutter.” She said that it would make her feel better to make shallow slash marks on her arms and legs with a razor. She exhibited many of the same warning signs, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. She also developed anorexia for a time. I think that this worth mentioning because teachers need to be aware of this type of disorder and should get these individuals help before they seriously hurt themselves.

  7. Brooke says:

    It is really sad, but I have had more than one female student in the past who has suffered from anorexia and other body image issues. Most of these times the parents and outside counselors/therapists were already involved. I think that that the problem is getting worse, primarily due to the media scrutiny on celebrities and social media. I have seen so many students make comments about their bodies casually in class that really makes me stop and think. Talking about the issues and giving them an outlet to express themselves obviously helps. Last year I did a few activities in class with persuasive writing, one that had to do with the comments made by Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO. I was surprised to see how many of the students were outraged and how many took the writing seriously. With so many of our students having unlimited access to bad examples and role models, I think it is just that much more important for us teachers to vigilant about the comments (no matter how small) we make during class. One way that we can combat this issue is to be open, honest, and willing to talk with our students about body image and more over, be a listening ear.

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