As an educator, you could be one of the first to observe the changes in a student or detect the behaviors of eating disorders. It is important not to use detrimental tactics when addressing a child you suspect may have an eating disorder. Some of these include casting a net of awe and wonder around the existence of an eating disorder, such as "I can't believe someone as smart as you has this problem," and oversimplifying the illness by suggesting eating disorders are "just a phase".
As an educator, you can influence a child and his or her behavior. For physical educators, it is imperative to keep a proper perspective on the need for weight loss and gain of any given athlete.
1. Do be supportive when the disorder is revealed. The child with an eating disorder needs strength for what can be a long struggle with his or her illness. Do remember that an eating disorder can be deadly.
2. Don't cast a net of awe and wonder around the existence of an eating disorder. Keep the focus on the reality that eating disorders result in:
Inefficiency in the fulfillment of academic, familial, occupational and other responsibilities.
Misery in the form of food and weight obsession, anxiety about control, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness and extreme mood swings.
Alienation in the form of social anxiety, social withdrawal, secrecy, mistrust of others and self-absorption.
Disturbance of self and others through loss of control over dieting, body image, eating, emotions and decisions.
3. Don't oversimplify. Avoid thinking or saying things such as "Well, eating disorders are just an addiction like alcoholism," or "All you have to do is start accepting yourself as you are." Or "You just need some willpower."
4. Don't imply that bulimia, because it is often associated with "normal weight," is somehow less serious than anorexia.
5. Don't be judgmental, e.g., don't tell the person that what they are doing is "sick" or "stupid" or "self-destructive."
6. Don't give advice about weight loss, exercise or appearance.
7. Don't confront the person as part of a group of people, all of whom are firing accusations at the person at once.
8. Don't diagnose. Keep the focus on the ways that the behaviors are impacting the person's life and wellbeing.
9. Don't become the person's therapist, savior or victim. In this regard, do not "promise to keep this a secret no matter what."
10. Don't get into an argument or a battle of wills. If the person denies having a problem, simply and calmly:
- Repeat what you have observed, i.e., your evidence for a problem.
- Repeat your concern about the person's health and wellbeing.
- Repeat your conviction that the circumstance should at least be evaluated by a counselor or therapist.
- End the conversation if it is going nowhere or if either party becomes too upset. This impasse suggests that the person seeking help needs to consult a professional.
- Take any actions necessary for you to carry out your responsibilities or to protect yourself.
- If possible, leave the door open for further conversations.
11. Don't be inactive during an emergency. If the person is throwing up several times per day, passing out, complaining of chest pain or is suicidal, get professional help immediately.