Anorexia has made headline news in the UK this week as the case of a 32-year-old known as ‘E’ has set a new precedent in right to live / right to die cases. The 32 year old, chronic anorexic is at death’s door and has signed a living will asserting her right to refuse to be kept alive. Her family and friends support her and feel that she should be allowed to die with dignity – or with as much dignity as anorexia will ever allow.
However, Mr Justice Peter Jackson has ruled that E can be force fed to be kept alive, believing that she has a chance at a full recovery. He stated “We only live once – we are born once and we die once – and the difference between life and death is the biggest difference we know. E is a special person, whose life is of value. She does not see it that way now, but she may in future.” Read the rest of this entry »
If a young person chooses to talk to you about their eating disorder, it’s a real sign of trust and it demonstrates that they’re ready to be listened to. The most important thing you can do is provide them with the opportunity to talk. No one expects you to know all the answers, but simply by actively listening you’re doing a really important job.
This post gives you a few ideas to make sure you’re listening as effectively as possible.
Make sure there’s no time pressure
A pupil will have to build up quite a lot of courage to have a conversation with you about their eating disorder, so if you suddenly have to dash off to do lunch duty after five minutes it can really shake their confidence. Although you may legitimately need to be somewhere else, the eating disorder is likely to make the pupil interpret the situation negatively and assume that you aren’t interested in what they have to say or you don’t want to help them or are disgusted by them. Read the rest of this entry »
You wouldn’t ignore a broken leg – please don’t ignore eating disorders either
There are several reasons why it is advantageous to detect, support and treat eating disorders cases as early as possible and to help you understand them I’ll bring you back to my trusty broken leg analogy.
If a pupil had a broken leg and it went unnoticed and untreated, a few things would happen:
The injury would cause pain and suffering in the short term
The injury would prevent the pupil from participating in sport and athletics until it was treated
The pain of the injury would distract the pupil from their academic work and make them less inclined to socialise
The injury would worsen, perhaps healing incorrectly, meaning that there might be a need for more serious intervention in the long term such as an operation or a long course of physiotherapy
The pupil may never fully recover from the injury, perhaps being prone to further breaks, or being left with a limp
And it’s almost exactly the same with an eating disorder. Like a broken leg, if it’s picked up right at the start and treated appropriately, the chances are that the pupil will make a fairly quick and full recovery, but left untreated, the impact of an eating disorder both short and long term worsens. Read the rest of this entry »
None of these warning signs on its own means that a young person has binge eating disorder but if they are exhibiting several of these signs then you are right to be concerned.
Rapid weight increase / weight fluctuation
Due to the vast amount of calories consumed during a binge, a binge eater will tend to gain weight very rapidly. As binge eating tends to be worse at periods when the sufferer is struggling, perhaps due to pressures at school or at home, their weight may plateau at times when they are finding things easier, then rapidly increase next time they go through a difficult patch and resort to binging.
Binge eaters can often feel very embarrassed about eating and may make an effort to eat alone. They are unable to control their urge to eat but are usually keenly aware that they are overweight and feel that they should be eating less, so they will often do it in private away from prying eyes which they often assume will be judging them. Read the rest of this entry »
As well as you or your colleagues picking up on eating disorders warning signs, it is also possible that pupils will raise concerns about a peer if they’re worried, or a pupil may even talk directly to a teacher or other member of school staff if they’re concerned about themselves.
Whilst knowing the risk factors and warning signs is a real help in spotting problems, there is nothing more reliable than a disclosure from a pupil or their peers. But unfortunately, our research has shown that less than 10% of pupils would feel confident in talking to a member of staff at school about their problems – for a range of different reasons. By understanding these reasons and thinking about whether they apply to your school, you can begin to think about how you might put measures in place to overcome these barriers and make pupils more likely to confide in a teacher about their concerns. This is vital because if a pupil or their peers disclose their concerns to you about a possible eating disorder (or other mental health issues for that matter) you will be in an excellent position to offer early help and the best possible support. Read the rest of this entry »
Beat’s second Eating Disorders International Conference was a really impressive event, bringing together people interested in eating disorders from all over the world it was an honour to be a part of it – thank you to all of the organisers, other contributors and attendees.
Some behavioural signs can be quite hard to pick up on but some are really strong clear indicators that a young person is suffering from an eating disorder. The thing with many of these signs is that on their own they can usually be explained away, but if you see them in combination, or you’re noticing them in someone who has personality, family or social factors that put them at higher risk of eating disorders, they could be a clear indicator that someone is suffering from an eating disorder.
In the medical profession, we use a term ‘Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified’ (EDNOS) as a catchall for anyone who displays eating disorder like symptoms or thought patterns but who doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria for the major disorders Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder.
Not all eating disorders sufferers fit neatly into categories
It’s important to understand that not everyone who is suffering from an eating disorder will display the classic symptoms of the three major eating disorders. They may suffer from multiple disorders or from a form of a condition which is not extreme enough to warrant a diagnosis – but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help and support. Read the rest of this entry »
Many teachers that I’ve worked with have felt that helping pupils with eating disorders was either beyond their remit, or something they felt totally unqualified to do. I feel strongly that school staff are in an excellent position to spot and support eating disorders and that with appropriate training, teachers and other school staff can do an excellent job of supporting these pupils, and don’t forget, there are plenty of external sources of support you can draw on as well such as your local CAMHs or charities such as Beat or Young Minds in Schools.
So what can you do to help?
Keep an eye on pupils at risk
Whilst eating disorders don’t discriminate and can affect anybody, there are some pupils who have a higher risk of developing an eating disorder than others. By making yourself aware of the social, family and personality factors that might put a young person at higher risk of developing an eating disorder, you’ll know which pupils you should keep an eagle eye on. Read the rest of this entry »