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Tips for Teachers Who Suspect a Student Has an Eating Disorder

  1. No matter how strong your suspicion, don't jump to conclusions or speak about the student to others without first speaking privately with the student. Plan a time to talk when you will not feel rushed or be interrupted. *
  2. If you want to enlist peers of the student for support, roommates or friends are the best resources for suggesting who has the best rapport with the student to do the talking. However, avoid setting the affected student up for a confrontation unless the situation is an emergency or otherwise very negative for many people.
  3. In a direct and non-punitive way, tell your student the specific observations that have aroused your concern. Allow the student to respond. If the student discloses information about problems, listen carefully, with empathy, and non-judgmentally.
  4. Communicate care, concern, and a desire to talk about problems. Your responsibility is not diagnosis or therapy, but to develop a compassionate and honest conversation intended to help a student in trouble find understanding, support and the proper therapeutic resources.
  5. If the information you receive is compelling, communicate to the student:
    • Your wonder about whether he or she might have an eating disorder;
    • Your conviction that the matter clearly needs to be evaluated by a professional;
    • Your understanding that participation in school, sports, or other activities will not be jeopardized unless the patient's health status makes participation dangerous.
  6. Be gently persistent. Avoid an argument or battle of wills. End the conversation if it reaches an impasse or parties become too upset. This impasse suggests the need for professional consultation.
  7. Throughout the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery process, the focus should be on the person feeling healthy and functioning effectively, not on weight, body size/shape, or morality.
  8. Avoid becoming the student's therapist, savior, or victim. Attempts to "moralize," develop treatment plans, be a watchdog for the person's eating behavior, adjust one's life around the eating disorder, or cover for the person are not helpful to recovery.
  9. Have lists of resources available for student referrals. In discussing these resources, emphasize to the student that, since eating problems are very hard to overcome on one's own, any past efforts that were unsuccessful don't indicate lack of effort or moral failure.
  10. Faculty should arrange for some type of follow-up contact with the student.
*Adapted from the National Eating Disorders Association: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

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Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person engages in binge eating (eating a lot of food in a short time) followed by some type of behavior to prevent weight gain from the food that was eaten. This behavior can take two forms: self-induced vomiting, misuse of enemas, laxatives, diet pills (called purging) and excessive exercise, fasting, or diabetic omission of insulin (called non-purging). Some people with bulimia nervosa may also starve themselves for periods of time before binge eating again. Bulimia nervosa has important mental, emotional, and physical aspects that require consideration during treatment.

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