Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) are psychiatric diagnoses that involve a significant disturbance in the perception of body shape and weight, leading to an abnormal or obsessive relationship with food, exercise, and self-image.

  • Anorexia nervosa is characterized by the refusal to maintain minimally normal weight for age and height (weight less than 85 percent of expected); an intense fear of gaining weight; a denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight; and, in postmenarcheal women, an absence of monthly menstruation.
  • Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, and enemas; fasting; and excessive exercise.
  • EDNOS has many of the characteristics of anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia nervosa, without meeting the strict parameters of those diagnoses. While EDNOS is not as well known as the other eating disorders, it is a more significant problem than anorexia or bulimia.

Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse often accompany these disorders. In addition, significant physical complications can also occur. If a student’s eating disorder jeopardizes his or her physical and emotional health, the student may need to leave school and enter intensive treatment. Symptoms associated with eating disorders include

  • significant weight loss (15 percent or more of the original body weight);
  • the inability to concentrate;
  • chronic fatigue;
  • decreased strength of immune system and susceptibility to illness;
  • an obsession with food that dominates the student’s life;
  • extreme moodiness;
  • excessive vulnerability to stress;
  • the tendency to socially withdraw;
  • repetitive injuries and pain from compulsive/excessive exercise; and
  • extreme perfectionism and/or rigidity. 

If you suspect that a student has an eating disorder:

Do

  • When possible, speak to the student in private.
  • Be supportive and express your concern about the student’s health. Provide specific examples of behaviors or symptoms that are of concern.
  • Refer the student to Counseling Services, 906-487-2538
  • Consult with a professional in Counseling Services if you want advice on how or when to intervene with a student.

Don't

  • Reassure a student that his or her obsessions are normal and therefore nothing to worry about.
  • Scare the student into changing or getting help. With eating disorders, fear seldom motivates change.
  • Make jokes about eating disorders or about fat people to students.
  • Make positive comments about a student’s weight loss. It is difficult to discern whether you are rewarding healthy behavior or encouraging a hidden disorder.

References