Anorexia Nervosa In The Classroom

Eating disorders affect nearly 1% of all students, while “subclinical” eating disorders “such as the restriction of food intake, weight loss, self-induced vomiting, chewing and spitting out food, and bouts of chaotic overeating” occur in 3-5% of girls in secondary education (Ransley 35). Research suggests that early detection of these disorders is instrumental in recovery. However, detection can be difficult. Students in a safe environment may communicate this information, however, with the “fragmented society” and the overstressed classroom resources this (in some cases) is “easier said than done.” Well-trained teachers have the best chance to notice these disorders, because they interact with students on a daily basis, so it is paramount that teachers are educated in the signs, symptoms, and solutions to this problem.

While there are many types of eating disorders with their own unique signs and symptoms, as well as, solutions. Anorexia Nervosa will be focused on here.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Rapid weight loss and restrictive eating is accompanied by physiological and psychological problems that will affect the student’s performance in the classroom.
  • While the student, will still be able to perform lower level tasks such as note-taking, higher level thinking will be definitely affected. Students will have difficulty grasping new concepts, maintaining attention, and daily problem solving activities.
  • The student will also begin to isolate themselves from groups and friends.
  • Restriction of food intake will become their primary goal. Many times these students enroll in nutrition classes and sports to better understand and utilize the information for weight loss purposes.
  • They will delve into tasks in the classroom whole heartedly; teachers should not mistake this for “just a good work ethic.” If a student receives a score that does not meet her expectations, she may take the disappointment out on themselves through more restrictive food intake.
  • In projects, if students are researching an eating disorder, many times that student may know someone that they suspect is affect by it or they may be curious if they are exhibiting those behaviors. Thoughtful, well-placed questions can be instrumental in discovering a problem.
  • Be wary that many of these individuals have eating disorders that stem from home. Some come from families with a high degree of parental involvement, and many times students feel the need for perfection. In other cases, there may be other reasons for these manifestations such as abuse.

How Can Teachers Intervene?

It is important for educators to recognize their boundaries as a professional and identify that “a pupil with anorexia nervosa has a severe mental illness because often teachers do not appreciate how complex and difficult it is to deal with the psychological problems associated with the illness” (35).

  1. Talk to the student about the disorder and your concern over their well-being
  2. Suggest counselors, nurses, help-lines, and others for the student to talk to about the disorder
  3. Encourage them to seek help from a professional
  4. Discuss the terms of confidentiality with the student, and use good judgment when involving the student’s parents
  5. While it may be difficult to accept, some students do not want the help, and will only be willing to receive it when they are ready. Remember that is not the sole teacher’s job to intervene. It should be a network of family, doctors, psychiatrists, etc. of the student working together
  6. Always remember that pupils do need professional help, “school staff members are not equipped to treat eating disorders and students'” (Keca 1).

What Can Schools do to Stop it?

Some researchers have suggested prevention and awareness programs targeting girls and boys during the time frame when they are most likely to develop these disorders:

  • Programs that discuss the socio-cultural pressures to be a certain weight
  • Nutrition that demonstrates healthy weights and normalcy
  • Overall inclusion of eating disorders in the curriculum
  • Create a school environment where students feel safe
  • Establish plans and procedures for students who exhibit signs of the disorder
  • Create prevention groups

Remove weighing and fat testing from gym classes and sports
While there are proponents and opponents to these suggestions, research still needs to be done on other aspects of stopping these disorders.

By working together hopefully in the future we will be able to stop these cases from reaching morbid realities.

Created By Jessica Sweeney


Ransley, Joan K. “Eating disorders and adolescents: what are the issues for secondary schools?” Health Education. Bradford: 1999. Vol.99, Iss. 1; pg. 35.

Keca, Janine & Cook-Cottone, Catherine. “Eating Disorders: Prevention Is Worth Every Ounce.” Principal Leadership. Reston: May 2005. Vol.5, Iss. 9; p. 11 – 16.