An eating disorder develops when a child’s and young person’s emotional well-being gets tangled up with their eating habits – for example, if their self-esteem is dependent on how much they eat or don’t eat. Eating disorders are most common in teenagers between the ages of 13 to 17 and they can manifest in a multitude of ways.
Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental illness where a person has an intense fear of gaining weight, often accompanied by body dysmorphia – a distorted view of one’s body. This fear leads them to eat very little or nothing at all, leading to severe and potentially life-threatening weight loss.
Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental illness that stems from being shamed about consuming large amounts of food, and your weight. A person will binge eat as much food as they can in a short space of time – this is often out of their control. They will then purge – making themselves throw up all the food they have eaten to avoid putting on weight from the binge. This leads to severe and potentially life-threatening weight loss.
Binge eating is a serious mental illness which, similarly to Bulimia, involves consuming large amounts of food uncontrollably in a short space of time. Unlike Bulimia, binge-eating does not involve purging. This can lead to extreme weight gain, which can be life-threatening.
During school time, especially at lunchtime and PE, signs of an eating disorder will be particularly prominent. Be mindful of how your students behave during these times especially as they can give you an indication of whether a student is developing an eating disorder. While being self-conscious is common in young people of all genders, when a young person is exercising in an obsessive way, or they never bring lunch in or always give it to their friends, this may be a cause for concern.
Other early signs of an eating disorder include frequent mood swings, wearing very baggy clothing to hide their figure, secretive behaviour around food, social withdrawal, and poor concentration. Eating disorders can have a permanent effect on children who are going through puberty and even stunt their sexual development, which is why it is important to notice and address this issue as soon as you can.
To learn more, watch our video on understanding eating disorders and download our fact sheet.