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Eating Disorders 101

Information for Teachers and Coaches

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Updated August 19, 2012

The amount of time spent with students provides teachers and coaches the unique opportunity to influence and build relationships with their students each year. On the other hand, they also have the responsibility of watching out for problems and challenges that their students are facing each year. If you are a teacher or coach that works with adolescents or young adults, I urge you to learn about eating disorders of all types and work to create a body-positive environment in your school. Consider these ideas and guidelines in your lesson planning.

Build relationships with your students. Positive relationships with your students will provide you with a window into their world. It will allow your students to trust you and come to you if they are struggling with something. It will also allow you to know when something has changed. Does a student seem to have lost weight? Do they seem withdrawn or distracted? Pay attention to these red flags and follow up on them.

Educate your students and peers about eating disorders. Consider having the school counselor or an outside speaker come in to talk about body- image issues and types of disordered eating. It is important to remember to not provide your students with a 'how to' manual of eating disorders but rather educate them on red flags to watch for in themselves and friends. Make sure that all of the teachers and staff in your school are educated on eating disorders and how to handle the situation of they discover a student is suffering.

Educate your students and peers about healthy, balanced eating. Rather than focusing lesson plans on weight-loss and obesity prevention, focus your lessons on learning to pay attention to our body's hunger and satiety signals. Discuss balanced eating that includes a variety of foods rather than putting foods into categories of 'good' and 'bad.'

Talk about eating and body issues in class. Many teachers and coaches report having difficulty bringing up topics that don't seem to fit with the subject they are teaching. It can seem challenging to bring up anorexia in English class. However, you might bring up a discussion of body image or women's roles that are portrayed in the book you are reading.

Encourage your students' strengths. Everyone has different areas which they are good at. Encourage your students to find out what their passions are and what they can be most successful at. This can build their self-esteem and confidence by leaps and bounds.

Don't weigh your students. Regardless of the lesson of the day, it isn't appropriate for students to be weighed by teachers or coaches. They especially should not be weighed in front of peers.

Don't allow 'Fat Talk' in your classroom. There are probably a number of topics that are off limits in your classroom. Talking about dieting, weight loss, criticizing their own or others' weights are all 'fat talk' and should also be off limits. These type of conversations can make even the healthiest person self-conscious and simply are not helpful.

Consider sponsoring a body-positive group. Research shows that peer led programs that encourage body-acceptance and positive body-image are the most successful. Sponsoring a student group such as this can really help to change the culture of a school.

If you teach adolescents or young adults, it is likely that you will have students who have eating disorders in your class or on your team. Make sure to create a supportive and non-judgmental environment. Building students up and raising their confidence levels is good for everyone involved.

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