Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia: The Need to Intervene
By Emily Young
Eating Disorders have Biological Causes
Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are serious psychological disorders that scientists have researched as having neural causes. Anorexia, for example, involves not only the severe disruption of eating behaviors and marked body-image distortion as a result of a mixture of two causes: culture-specific models of beauty, SES level, and family members’ reactions to adolescent body changes PLUS neurophysical disturbances in the right temporo-parietal cortex of the brain.
Eating Disorders have Severe Outcomes
Eating disorders such as these have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, ranging between 5-15% for patients with anorexia and 1-2% for patients with bulimia. For example, one of many particular stories that received heightened media attention was that of Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model who died of anorexia nervosa in 2006. These are serious psychological disorders that can eventually lead to individuals being placed on monitoring systems within hospitals, lengthy treatments, long-term health defects, and possible fatality.
Because of the above two arguments for the biological causes plus the horrid outcomes of eating disorders, it is against advisement for teachers to ignore the condition or assume that it will fix itself. Teachers have a responsibility to the child’s well-being, and if they allow an eating disorder to continue without intervention, the condition will severely inhibit that student’s education as well as health.
Some websites advocate for teachers, parents, and friends to get the person with the eating disorder to trust them and realize that the person can only help themselves when they are ready. But, the above evidence of the severe outcomes and the biological causes of the eating disorders indicate that action needs to be taken, because the brain may not be able to re-wire and overcome itself. Potential recovery options include seeking out medical treatment, therapy, and support groups. If a teacher sees signs of anorexia (such as dramatic loss of weight, students avoiding the lunch room or lying about eating, signs of fatigue, notes measuring food amounts or calculating calories, etc) or symptoms of bulimia (going to the bathroom in a period directly after lunch or breakfast, asking to go to the bathroom after eating candy or treats in class, statements about how often they get “sick,” etc) they must immediately approach the student in a respectful manner as well as contact the parents with concerns. If the next steps towards intervention are not taken, school officials should also be notified, such as the social worker or guidance counselor.
An Example of When Outsiders Do Not Intervene
The strong advocacy I have for speaking up respectfully and seriously about eating disorders comes from my older sister, 4 years my elder, whad anorexia for three years, The disorder began her 8th grade year when she go on the middle-school cheerleading squad and did not end until the beginning of her 11th grade year, and still to this day she struggles with appropriate body image and anemia. During this period, she would eat half a graham cracker for breakfast, a spoonful of cottage cheese and three crackers for lunch, and try to avoid dinner by practicing with the dance troupe. She took laxatives; people told her she looked too skinny and was a skeleton, but these comments were taken as compliments by her because they were said by uncomfortable people who made these serious comments with joking tones. She finally ended up in the hospital at 89 pounds, and relapsed after released. Her final recovery period came when she took agency over her own situation with the help of therapy, and she started her own support network called “Helping Hands” within our high school. When she was in college at UCF, she launched an online website to expand the support group nationally – she went to visit friends she had met who were struggling with anorexia all over the United States.
Why did no one ever seriously intervene with my sister? Why did it have to take a trip to the hospital and three years of starvation in order for her to recover? And, what was the switch that caused her final realization that she needed help? As teachers, we are in a powerful position to act, intervene, and help curb these behavioral disorders from having too great of an effect within the youth we care so much about.
Eating Disorder News (2005). Website. retrieved on July 29, 2007, from http://www.remudaranch.com/index.php/news/length_of_stay_and_eating_disorder_treatment/.
Something-Fishy (2007). Website on Eating Disorders: What You Can Do. Retrieved on July 29, 2007, from http://www.something-fishy.org/helping/whatyoucando.php.
Stein, D. & Ludik, J. (1998). Neural Networks and Psychopathology. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.