Skip to main content

Disordered Eating in Schools – How To Tackle It?

Helping others

Disordered eating is a disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern that can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals.

Disordered eating can mean anything from chaotic eating to simply not taking care of your eating habits. An example of this could be someone who doesn’t prioritise food, or often skips meals because they may be feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed. You may find students also not wanting to eat in school especially at lunch time! They feel anxious about someone commenting on their food intake, or being judged for how much they’re eating! This is something i feel needs to addressed immediately.

Fat shaming is also another big issue I am seeing in schools. This is also may make someone feel embarrassed to eat in school. Tackling this is a separate issue, let’s first focus on the signs of disordered eating and what to do?

What are the signs/symptoms of disordered eating?

  • Skipping meals
  • Cutting out food groups
  • Irregular eating patterns
  • Fasting and bingeing
  • Anxiety about specific foods
  • Desire to burn off calories
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Social and emotional withdrawal
  • Difficulty concentrating

5 things a teacher can do to help a student who’s struggling with disordered eating?

If you’re concerned about a student, it’s important to consider the best person to approach the student of concern, and then choose an appropriate time and place to have a gentle talk with the student regarding your concerns.

  1. Try to approach the student in a calm way and avoid any direct questioning or comments about eating behaviours  e.g. have you lost weight.
  2. Be prepared for high levels of guilt, and shame around their eating behaviour
  3. Express your concerns with ‘I’ statements e.g. “I notice you’ve been rather distant in group lately, could you tell me about that?” Or “It seems like you are having a really hard time at the moment, am I on the right track?”
  4. Listen and allow them plenty of time to express their feelings.

How to promote a whole school approach to body image?

Promoting a whole-school approach to body image involves fostering a positive environment that supports students’ mental health and well-being.

Some strategies schools can implement may include:

  • Lesson Plans: Create and implement lesson plans that explore body image in depth. These can help students understand what body image is, what factors affect it, and how it impacts mental health and well-being.
  • Assemblies: Conduct assemblies with PowerPoint slides and posters to raise awareness about body image and mental health throughout the entire school community.
  • Physical Environment: Create an environment that promotes body positivity. Consider inclusive posters, diverse representations, and messages that celebrate different body types.
  • Education on nutrition – Really important to explain the importance of nutrition on their performance at school. We have a great resource on this about anxiety and eating habits, please click on the following link BELOW and order the FREE RESOURCE!

How to approach a student of concern?

Set a private time and place to talk to the student, and approach them in a calming way, avoiding direct questions or comments about eating issues or behaviour e.g. ‘have you lost weight ?’   Be prepared for high levels of anxiety, guilt and shame around their eating behaviour. Express your concerns with ‘I’ statements e.g. “I notice you’ve been rather distant in group lately, could you tell me about that?” Or “It seems like you are having a really hard time at the moment, am I on the right track?”

Listen and allow them plenty of time to express their feelings and remember this is a first step and you may experience resistance. Remember to encourage the student to seek further support, and help rather than convincing them they have a problem.

When to make a referral?

Follow your schools’ guidelines about referring a student you’re concerned about to the wellbeing/support team. Where possible maintain the student’s continentality. If a student is experiencing depression, high anxiety, or extreme weight loss, speak to someone who’s got the professionalism within the area, on how to address the situation.

If a student is presenting with any signs of disordered eating bullet point what you notice with the symptoms, and ensure to keep an eye on the student.

Other useful resources

Leave a Reply