Eating disorders – Don’t let them “eat away” at your students!
Photo by Danielle Helm on Flickr
The topic of mental health is often taboo but it certainly isn’t “mental” to talk about it. Although eating disorders can have very physical effects many forget that they derive from an unhealthy mental state or way of thinking. Due to a warped depiction of beauty in the media and fashion industries and both internal and external pressures to achieve perfection, many students can fall victim to eating disorders. Here are some easy ways in which you can help both yourself and your students to be more au courant with the subject.
Show that you care
As a teacher you play a specific role in the lives of the young people you work with but that doesn’t mean that you can’t empathise with them on a more personal level. Ask them how they are if it seems like something is wrong (physically or mentally) or even invite them to stay behind after class for a chat. They might not open up straight away but by doing this you can forge a relationship based on communication and let them know that you care about their wellbeing.
Look out for changes
You see your students every day and probably even spend more time with them than their parents do. This means that you’re perfectly placed to notice any changes in their behaviour. Even if you don’t see them during break and lunchtime periods you can still look out for students who seem more pale, sickly or sluggish than usual. It could also help to discreetly ask their friends about their eating habits if you have any concerns.
Create a list of useful contacts
You can help your students by lending an ear every now and then but if they need further assistance you should refer them on to a counsellor, doctor or nutritionist. It’s a good idea to keep a list of useful phone numbers and websites or even put them up on a notice board in the classroom. If you think a student is severely underweight, ill or is consciously self-starving or purging then you should contact their parent or guardian but otherwise ask them first before you get in touch with home.
Dedicate a class to healthy eating
Why not set a lesson aside which is dedicated solely to the topic of Healthy eating or even invite a guest speaker to your class? This could teach students some practical ways in which they can eat well at school (plan lunches, bring snacks etc.) but could also specifically be used to raise awareness of eating disorders such as anorexia, body-dysmorphia and bulimia. In this way you can help to desensitise such topics and therefore create a safe environment in which your students feel able to talk about their problems.
So now you have some bite-sized knowledge that can help you to be more aware of eating disorders at school. Let’s not sweep these things under the carpet; it’s time to say boo to taboos!