Eating Disorders

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Anorexia Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Anorexia is an eating disorder that makes people extremely afraid of gaining weight and gives them a distorted view of their body shape and size. These fears and misperceptions can lead them to restrict how much food they eat through dieting, fasting, and exercising excessively. Some students with anorexia may eat a lot of food (binge eat) and then get rid of the calories by forcing themselves to vomit (purge).

About 95% of the nearly 24 million Americans with eating disorders are between 12 and 25 years old, and 1 or 2 of every 100 students struggles with an eating disorder. About 90% of people with anorexia are female. Many experts believe that anorexia is caused by a combination of psychological, genetic, and social factors.

Anorexia can make the body go into starvation mode, and this lack of nutrition can result in:

  • drops in blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate
  • hair loss, broken fingernails, swollen joints, and brittle bones
  • halting of menstrual periods
  • anemia

Anorexia can cause dehydration and other complications, like heart problems or kidney failure. In extreme cases, anorexia can cause severe malnutrition and even death.

Students with anorexia may:

  • appear thin, frail, and emaciated
  • act withdrawn, depressed, or anxious around classmates
  • feel self-conscious about their appearance
  • talk obsessively about dieting
  • be lethargic or irritable, and feel cold
  • feel a need to exercise as much as possible
  • miss class time and assignments due to complications associated with anorexia
  • need support from a school counselor or school nurse for symptoms associated with anorexia

What Teachers Can Do

Early detection is the best way to successfully treat eating disorders such as anorexia. If you know or suspect that a student has anorexia, it is important to refer him or her for assistance. The school counselor or school nurse can help.

In your classroom, maintain an atmosphere that promotes health and wellness without focusing on weight. Demonstrating healthy attitudes about food, exercise, and body image can help set a good example for your students.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: October 14, 2016