Signs and Symptoms of Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders: Tips for Educators

Creating a Healthy Environment in the Classroom and the Gym:

1. Bring a Positive Body Image and Media Literacy programs to your grade, middle, or high school: Eating Disorder Information Network (EDIN)  has developed cost-effective, easy-to-implement, and (most important) fun awareness programs for K-12 students.

2. Examine your own attitudes and assumptions: How you feel regarding weight, dieting, and body image may affect the way you speak and act around children. Do not assume that health and sports ability are necessarily a function of weight, i.e. large children may have an increase in flexibility, endurance, and talents, just as thin children may lack coordination or be in poor cardiovascular shape.

3. Provide accurate information about exercise and food: In an effort to prevent both obesity AND anorexia, it’s important to be reasonable about the ways we talk about food. An important example is teaching that fast food, or any food, is not “toxic.” All food is acceptable in moderation.

4. NEVER weigh your students: Physical education teachers are advised not to weight students or conduct body fat composition tests. While some states mandate sending BMI report cards home to parents, these types of interventions may only increase the shame and stigma of being overweight. These tests can be extremely anxiety-producing, and for vulnerable children the results can lead to negative comparisons, competitiveness, and an unhealthy obsession with lowering the numbers. A comprehensive school-wide program focused on physical and mental health at any size is recommended.

5. Do not single out children based on their size: This is especially important when picking classroom helpers or picking teams. Be conscious to never discriminate or make decisions based on a student’s body size.

6. Do not tolerate derogatory weight-based comments: Tease or harassment of children based on body size is quite common, but should not be tolerated. Consciously and openly promote the message that self-worth is not related to body size. Teach empathy and compassion for others, and address weightism just as you address sexism and racism, as a human rights issue. Be especially conscious of the fact that girls are particularly sensitive to the issue of weight. Eliminate all derogatory comments or jokes, no matter how slight, about weight or body size.

7. Be a role model: Your students are taking notes. They are watching you eat and listening to how you talk about your own body. Your words and actions “hold more weight” than you may know.

Do not talk about avoiding carbohydrates, discuss the evils of fat, or provide information about your latest efforts at dieting.
Do not mention that you need to “work off” lunch.
Do not point out your perceived flaws on your body.
Eat healthy, balanced meals in front of your students and fellow teachers.
Say positive things about yourself and your body in front of students.

8. Learn how to identify the signs and symptoms of disordered eating and TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY!

9. Speak with a student’s parents if you are concerned: You may also want to speak with the school counselor if a student demonstrates chronically poor body image or excessive concern about their body size. Because of the high mortality rate for anorexia, prevention and early detection are critical. Left unaddressed, disordered eating habits may develop into eating disorders.

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