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How to Identify and Help Students With Eating Disorders: A Guest Post


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Introduction

My friend Chloe (known as Nyxie online) writes an excellent blog that addresses issues with mental health and eating disorders.  The reason why her blog is so good is because she has struggled with Anorexia Nervosa, depression, and anxiety and found ongoing recovery and support in those areas over a very long period of time.

I am eager to share this post from Nyxie’s blog about students with eating disorders with you.  I hope that it helps to increase awareness and support for the students worldwide that deal silently with these issues.  May we all come together as a community to help these students to find peace, support, and recovery.

How to Identify and Help Students With Eating Disorders

by Chloe Nyx Faulkner

I’m not a teacher, nor have I ever had the desire to become one. Even the thought of one day being a lecturer at a local university sends my stomach into flips. It’s not that I hate the idea of teaching, it’s all the responsibility that comes with it. This is especially true in regards to the responsibility surrounding mental health.

students with eating disorders

My sister is a qualified teacher. When asked if they had any sort of mental health training, she informed me that there had been next to nothing on the subject of mental health in schools. Although briefly covered in university, Emma stated that ‘training‘ was on the job.

Having dealt with some troubled children and teenagers during the course of her short career, she’s adamant that the quality of mental health among her students has been significantly more troubling than she had anticipated.

“Mental health issues are becoming more prevalent within schools and universities than ever before.”

This is in line with statistics released by The World Health Organisation. 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental health issues. According to WHO, about half of all mental disorders begin before the age of 14. That’s a hell of a lot of young people who are left suffering from a very young age.

In regards to eating disorders, although they can affect anyone of any age, young people are particularly vulnerable. 50% of all those who have experienced an eating disorder will never recover fully, therefore it’s imperative that these disorders are spotted and treated quickly. Teachers, lecturers, and staff within learning environments are in a prime location to be able to spot the signs of an eating disorder, and it’s important that these issues are being acknowledged and addressed correctly.

“The quicker an eating disorder is treated, the better the chance of a full recovery.”

I’m doubtful that there are many people out there who have never heard of the term ‘eating disorder‘. However, in case you haven’t, or simply want to find out more, then please visit the NHS’s brief overview.


How to identify students with eating disorders;

When choosing how to research this particular post, I got in contact with Sarah Stevens, an eating disorder counsellor to help explain how education providers may be able to identify an issue in one of their students.

How can education providers recognise students with eating disorders?;

Initially, the tutor may notice changes in mood and/or behaviour. Depending on the particular eating disorder the student may begin to withdraw socially, avoid eating in public, with friends, etc. They may make out they have already eaten when really they are avoiding it.

For a student who purges, it might be that the tutor begins to notice they leave the table within minutes of finishing during lunch periods, they may take to chewing gum, and using perfumed products to hide the smell of vomit.

The student may begin to get highly anxious about work. People with anorexia can have a perfectionist streak which often rests its head at stressful times like exams.”

What are the outward signs to look for?

The obvious things a tutor can notice is a change in weight and muscle mass. Although not often discussed, muscle dysmorphia is on the rise with young men falling prey to feeling ‘not good enough’ and therefore pumping up at the gym. When the workouts start to interfere with school work, social life, etc, there may be an issue.

There are so many signs you can look for that Sarah couldn’t possibly discuss them all. These can be behavioral, emotional and physical changes that you’ve picked up on as a teacher/lecturer such as;

  • Sudden changes in grades and performance and school
  • Mood changes
  • Evident tiredness
  • Sudden weight changes
  • Increased absenteeism from class.

As an education provider, there are some signs which will be less obvious from your perspective. These include things such as;

  • Depression, anxiety and even self-harm. These could also be indicators of other issues.
  • Bullying from other classmates
  • Obsessive talk in regards to food, weight, and shape
  • A sense of low self-esteem.

Unless obviously stated by the student there is no tell-tale way to determine exactly what is going on inside someone else’s head, and therefore it’s up to the deduction skills and digression of the teacher to determine the student’s possible mental state.

Students with eating disorders

Please note; These are not definitive. It should also be noted that as an education provider, you are not qualified to diagnose. This can only be done by a mental health professional. Your involvement should be purely a pastoral and supportive role.


How you can help students with eating disorders;

Whether you’re supporting a child with a known eating disorder or encouraging them to get help for the first time, there is no question that it can be a delicate matter. As education providers there are obvious signs you can identify with and other, less obvious signs which may go unnoticed.

How can education providers help a student?

“Essentially the tutor can simply ask the student if anything is bothering them and if there is anything stressful happening in their lives. It’s important to be reassuring and compassionate and to encourage the student to speak with a trusted adult.

Ideally, the tutor will be sensitive to the pupil, not saying things like “you look fine” as this can trigger the student to act out in the ways that are unhelpful to them. The tutor can provide a listening ear, supporting the student to go see a medical professional and ideally model a healthy relationship with their own body and food.

There are obviously certain channels to go through in order to report a potential problem with a student. As mentioned by Sarah above, speaking to the student outright is the first approach. This should be carried out in a professional but compassionate manner, and the education provider should remember to remove all judgments from their mind. Moreover, it’s important to remain calm yourself, so as not to raise alarm within the student.

It’s highly likely that the student may refuse to accept help or even acknowledge the issue. In this case, it can’t be forced, and there is nothing you can do to force someone in to help. Keep an eye on the student for any follow-up, and ensure that they are aware you are there to listen if ever needed.

Create opportunities for confiding;

In some cases, students may find it easier to come to you first. By making the first move they may feel more in control of the situation, removing the aspect of their choices being made for them.

Create safe spaces for them to speak with you. Suggest them staying after class to discuss schoolwork, encourage them to speak with you about any fears or troubles they may be having and maybe start with the simple question;

“You don’t seem yourself lately. Is there anything you want to talk about, or anything I can do to help?”

Avoid an outright discussion about weight and food as this could easily scare the child. Instead, focus on listening to them, and work on building up your mutual trust. You may be the only person who’s actually listening to them and for that, they’ll be very grateful.

When to get pastoral care involved;

If a child is raising concern it’s important that you contact the person in charge of pastoral care within your facility. It may be the case they’re already aware of the issue, or they may enlist your help in regards to ‘keeping an eye’ on the student.


“This Much I Know About Mind Over Matter; Improving Mental Health in Our Schools.”

It never ceases to amaze me the gems I can find among library shelves. I came across this book earlier in the year when researching another, related topic. It was a refreshing read about mental health in a school setting and would be extremely useful to any lecturers or teachers dealing with children.

John Tomsett provides an honest and empathetic approach to the subject of mental health within schools. His knowledge of the subject allows him to provide some much-needed advice on how to handle situations in a school setting.

It’s safe to say that all schools should have a copy of this book on hand. Failing that, education providers can easily pick it up on Amazon using the link above.


It can be daunting and scary to deal with a student with an eating disorder.

It’s important to remember the following;

This is a mental health issue which can come about due to various pressures at home as well as those in school. Grief, bullying, low self-esteem, relationship issues, illnesses, and many other reasons can trigger the development of an eating disorder. All the various different types of eating disorders are complex and whilst individuals may have similar behavioural patterns, each individual needs to be considered in their own right.

As an education provider on the front lines, you have the ability to provide help for students byways of a listening ear, or a friendly face. Children and teenagers are often in a place where they may feel reluctant or scared to confide in adults for fear of losing their control, therefore it’s important that you remind them you are here to listen, not dictate.

Remember yourself in all of this; We’re only human and we aren’t built to read minds. Don’t beat yourself up for not noticing a problem sooner. Your mental health is important too.

Nyxie's Nook Signature.

For more information on students with eating disorders;

Related Article

Here is a related article for you to to check out:

10 Perfect Picture Books to Teach Middle Schoolers Emotional Intelligence:  Some are Free!

This Post Has 69 Comments

    1. Marie

      I hope that’s the case, Tara. It is so easy to slide by unnoticed in school.

  1. Amber

    Oh gosh, this would be tough. My daughter says she already hears girls say they need to lose weight in 7th grade. She always tells them they’re fine, but some girls seriously are panicked about it.

    1. Marie

      It started with me in 3rd grade very many years ago. It has been way too prevalent in culture for way too long.

  2. Melanie

    I think it is really good for teachers to know the signs of eating disorders as it is so prevalent. What I loved hearing was encouraging the teacher to be involved in the students life-especially those that are on the fringe. Even if they don’t have an eating disorder, they are struggling and a teacher just noticing them and being kind to them could make such a difference in their lives.

    1. Marie

      Exactly, Melanie! It is so easy to slip by unnoticed in school, even when you are surrounded by hundreds of people daily.

  3. I used to teach school, and I don’t remember getting any training about mental health issues. I taught elementary school, and I think many mental health issues (hopefully not eating disorders) might start as early as elementary school. We could definitely use the training.

    1. Marie

      Yes, you are right. Mental health issues actually start from birth. There is so much research out now, and it is showing how critical the first 5 or 6 years of life are because that is when your brain is developing and needs emotionally healthy care. Without it, the child’s brain doesn’t develop properly.
      There is more training about this now, but still woefully lacking. I hope that it continues to improve because it is so important to learning and life. Thank you for weighing in!

  4. Passion Piece

    I think this text will help me in the future while working with my students. I had a close friend suffering from anorexia, but hopefully her parents took some steps fast and after years she seems to be healthy. 🙂

    1. Marie

      I am glad they were able to get her help fast. And I do hope this helps you out! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Hollie

    I used to work in the field and this is such a tough conversation. I always appreciate other’s spreading awareness because reaching out is so key to helping.

    1. Marie

      You are right about reaching out being key, Hollie. And yes, the conversation is so hard, because it doesn’t always go well. Thank you for sharing and for spending time in such a critical field.

  6. Chad

    Share Share Share! Everyone should spread the information about such a serious disorder! I honestly had no idea how I could help, thanks a lot.

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Chad!

  7. Kay

    Its great that you are spreading awareness, there is so much pressure for kids these days, which can lead to so many problems 🙁

    1. Marie

      The pressure just seems to keep on increasing over time. It’s so hard. Nyxie has done a great job of getting the conversation going and spreading awareness. Thanks for sharing, Kay.

  8. It is so important to spread awareness and make sure that you keep the conversation going. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

    1. I agree that teachers need to create a safe space for students, so that they’ll feel a bit more comfortable opening up to them. Because if they’re never comfortable talking to you about their eating disorder, you won’t be in great position to help them.

      1. Marie

        Exactly!

  9. ninalehan21

    this is definitely a tough conversation but i am glad it is being voiced to help identify and assist individuals

  10. inmyprime50

    My niece had an eating disorder and got professional help but it is still a struggle for her.

    1. Marie

      I am glad she got help. But it can be a very long if not lifelong road to travel. As long as she has great support and knows it, it will help her to go a long way. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Fatima D Torres

    It’s not always easy to notice who has an eating disorder by simply looking at them. However, if you’ve been around people who do, you may be able to easily spot them.

  12. Kez

    As a teacher, it’s so hard to look out for signs of this in all students. Thankfully, my school has employed several new social workers this year, so if we notice something, the social workers chat to the students.

    1. Marie

      I think a lot of schools are starting to pay attention to these types of things. I am grateful for that! Thank you for your thoughts, Kez!

  13. Heather Ritchie

    I think mental illness has been around for years it’s just we hadn’t defined or recognized it. With the increase in population there are more people battling with common issues like eating disorders. I love that this post calls them to light so that we can recognize them in young people and treat them.

  14. Super Mom Picks

    Mental illness is becoming such a big thing in young adolescents. I remember girls with eating disorders when I was a teen, but today’s youth have it so much worse.

    1. Marie

      I agree. Maybe the pressure in today’s world makes it so much harder for them.

  15. Cris Olachea

    This will help not only teacher but people in general. Families can also learn the signs of this disorder.

    1. Marie

      Yes! Paying attention to the young people around us would make this easier for all of us to identify. Thank you for your thoughts, Cris.

  16. Shruti and Delta

    Teachers have a role not only to educate student’s mind about the subjects, but also about their own body. Good job.

  17. Cristina Ioana

    Thank you so much for this article. As a teacher and a mother I think it’s so important to recognize the signs of eating disorders and take action.

  18. Passion Piece

    I’ve sheard this article with my colleagues so that we can react on time in the future! They were really amazed with the information included in this text! Thanks a lot! 🙂

    1. Marie

      Thank you! I hope that it is helpful information for you all!

  19. Nyxinked

    I feel silly commenting on this seeing as it’s my own post. But I am glad this is getting so much attention and so many people are learning from this. Thank you all for taking the time to read, share and comment.

    1. Marie

      I am grateful to be able to share work with you. And I am glad to see that people are getting the message as it gets out further! 🙂 Thank you, Friend!

  20. Farrah Less

    The information is on point I would love to share this on my page to bring awareness to everyone, I wish whoever suffer this kind of behavior can get help before it gets worst.

    1. Marie

      That would be awesome, Farrah! The more we get the word out the better! Just make sure to give Nyxie the credit for it!

  21. Susan1375

    An important and helpfu checklist. Eating disorder can creep up so it helpful to have articles like these to consider

  22. simplysensationalfood

    This is a very informative post, I think if teachers were given this sort of training to look our fit symptoms of eating disorders it would save a lots of students . Good to bring awareness though, great work .

  23. Holly Hood

    I believe that sharing and talking openly about the issues will help! Everyone should spread the information about serious disorder that affect so many girls and women!

  24. rhiabakes

    It’s so important for all of us to be aware of these signs. It’s too easy for people to get lost in the thick of it and not receive the help they need.

  25. Mayuri Saxena

    Thanks for sharing! It is quite an informative post…I have suffered from eating disorder and I know it isn’t easy. I am glad that teachers are helping students to identify and help eating disorder.

  26. Ruth I

    This is a timely issues we should all take a look. I cannot believe some people are actually ignoring it. It is nice to see someone shares this topic.

    1. Marie

      Thank you, Ruth!

  27. Kileen

    What a super informative post! I just hope that teacher and educators everywhere can see this! Thank you for sharing this. I believe that eating disorders aren’t talked about enough.

    Kileen
    cute & little

  28. Lyosha

    Sadly eating disorders are the most common so it is very important to know how to handle it with grace and benefit. I think this guest post is much needed here

  29. Kevin Brotac

    It is very important for teachers to be prepared and to help their students in any way they can. especially nowadays that we are more aware of how important mental health is. Great post, all teachers should read it and be prepared to help their students.

  30. Bill

    I’m so glad you shared this. I read somewhere recently that eating disorders are a lot more common in kids than people realize.

  31. Brianne

    I hope tons of teachers read this. Teachers are one of our major defenders of our kids on the front lines. They often see things that parents either can’t or won’t.

  32. Claudia

    I’m so glad you have this here for teachers to take in. When I was in school, I had a friend with an eating disorder and no one knew. It seemed like the teachers and parents either couldn’t see it or wouldn’t see it.

  33. World in Eyes

    Great information though you have mentioned here..this blog post is definitely very helpful and informative one..great work though

  34. Matt Taylor

    Unfortunately, mental health issues and eating disorders are getting more and more prevalent in society, or they were always there and people weren’t as outspoken about them. It is so important to be able to see the warning signs and know how to help them. especially with school-aged kids. My sister has had mental health challenges for over 20 years now, so I have been exposed to it first hand.

  35. A powerful and so-needed post. Not just for educators, for parents and trustees as well.
    Becoming aware of the issue is the first step. But, then, we all need to learn and update ourselves on how-to’s and the tools to help and reach out to those kiddos who desperately need our reaching out helping hand.

  36. Kathy Kenny Ngo

    This is very helpful. A lot of students get bullied for their weight so this is a real thing happening

  37. Emily Fata

    Especially after coming out of a period of intense stress, these are things that teachers and other school workers should certainly be on the lookout for in the kids as they come back to school. Thank you for sharing this!

  38. Jasmine Martin

    These tips are very helpful within assisting with helping a student with an eating disorder. You definitely have to handle these situations with care.

  39. Ambuj Saxena

    Eating disorders might have other long term impact on the student’s ability to grasp concepts and fight the ups and downs of life! So thanks for a brilliant post on eating disorders and how to treat them! This was a really helpful read!

  40. Emman Damian

    I agree that Mental health issues are becoming more prevalent within schools and universities than ever before. Maybe because of social media too! These tips are very helpful indeed for teachers to identify if students have the tendency to have eating disorders.

  41. Ntensibe Edgar

    The weight changes will be definitely evident. What you agree with the student(s) on the way forward will be very crucial.

    1. Marie

      Yes, it is a very difficult and fine line!

  42. Rose Ann Sales

    This is such an interesting topic. And that statistic is so alarming.

  43. Ivana Mearns

    This is all very helpful, thank you. I kept thinking that I should learn more about this topic to be able to help others when needed, I am glad that I found this post.

  44. Hazel

    This is such a great and informative post! I think teachers and school authorities play a big part in ensuring the healthy well-being of their students. They should create an environment wherein their students can freely speak and be reassured that everything will be okay.

  45. I think it’s also very important to have a trusted adult be the one to breach the topic of support, maybe not even support of an ED. In high school, I suffered from anorexia and was confronted by a teacher that I did not like about the signs they were noticing. It only made me get better about hiding my disorder.

  46. Mae

    This is a very interesting and sensitive topic. It’s very important for teachers to learn how to help students who are suffering from eating disorders early on. It’s alarming how so many are suffering from this! This is a very informative post and a great help.

  47. Monidipa

    It takes keen eyes to notice the behaviour and the eating disorders of students and if teachers can do that, it would be great for the,. I’ll share it with my teacher friends.

  48. Samantha

    The way you mentioned asking the student is so important. It would be intimidating to be “confronted” about behavior. A gentle, caring question is much more likely to help a student open up. What a helpful post!

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