The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Eating disorders affect 7 to 10 times more women than men.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
- Someone with anorexia nervosa worries all the time about being fat (even if they are very thin) and eats very little. In girls, periods become irregular or stop.
- Someone with bulimia nervosa also worries a lot about their weight. They alternate between eating very little, and then having binges when they gorge themselves.
- Bulimia sufferers vomit or take laxatives to control their weight.
Causes of eating disorders
- Worry or stress may lead to comfort eating.
- Low self esteem.
- Puberty, anorexia can reverse or halt the physical changes linked to puberty.
- Control- losing weight can elicit feelings of being in control.
- Anorexia or bulimia can develop as a complication of more extreme dieting, perhaps triggered by an upsetting event, such as family break-down, death or separation in the family, bullying at school or abuse.
- More ordinary events, such as the loss of a friend, a teasing remark or school exams, may also be the trigger in a vulnerable person.
Symptoms of eating disorders
- Significant weight loss or gain.
- Continuous dieting even when underweight.
- Fear of weight gain.
- Persistent preoccupation with food/eating/weight.
- Eating while alone or in secret.
- Hidden food or laxatives/diuretics.
- Vomiting – or regularly retiring to the toilet – after meals.
- Frequently running the taps while in the toilet (to cover evidence of vomiting).
- Swollen cheeks and/or bad breath (from vomiting).
- Excessive exercising to burn calories.
- Poor concentration and knowledge retention.
- Reduction in cognitive functioning, for example, abstract thinking,
Treatments for eating disorders
- Most eating disorder cases will be treated on an outpatient basis.
- However, in very severe cases an admission to hospital or specialist inpatient centre may be required.
- Treatment includes refeeding and psycho-social interventions.
- Psychotherapy or counselling.
- Family intervention that directly address the eating disorder should normally be offered as part of the treatment plan.
- Medication may be offered where other symptoms are present, for example, depression or OCD.
- A course of specially designed cognitive behaviour therapy may be offered.
- Addressing whole school issues of bullying, perfectionism and social isolation can help reduce some of the underlying triggers that may lead to Eating Disorders in some young people.
- Transition from primary to secondary school and from school to university are high risk times for sufferers of Eating Disorders. Be proactive in discussing available support.
- Review PSHE or personal development programmes so that issues related to body image, social media, and peer pressure are explored.
Medical treatment plans
- Liaise with parents/ carers/medical professionals regarding the young person’s treatment plan. Support at mealtimes may be requested. The medical team may provide guidance on PE and physical activity.
- If treatment requires home rest or a hospital admission liaise promptly with parents/carers and the hospital school/tuition staff.
Support for learning
- The ability to focus and concentrate may be impaired. Provide shorter tasks and check for understanding before moving on.
- Students may feel overwhelmed if they are unable to work as effectively as when they were well. Offer reassurance that their cognitive abilities will improve as they work towards recovery.
- Discuss a reduction in subjects for a period so that they can focus on doing well in some subjects. This may reduce anxiety for some students.