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For some children and young adults, it is not the lesson times that cause most anxiety at school, but the lunch. When your child has an eating disorder, learning comes second place to battling with food.

When you have an unhealthy relationship with food, which takes over your life and makes you ill, it is classed as an eating disorder. It may involve eating too little, too much or being obsessed with weight or body shape. Eating disorders affect men and women of any age but are most common in girls between 13 and 17. There is recent evidence to show the number of younger children (8-12s) with anorexia is on the rise too.

Anorexia is the most well-known of the disorders, but others are more common, namely Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). Eating disorders can develop to be serious mental illnesses with life-threatening consequences.

Signs of eating disorders

  • Disproportionate worry about weight or shape.
  • Avoiding socialising when food is involved.
  • Eating very little.
  • Deliberately making yourself sick or taking laxatives.
  • Excessive exercise.
  • Having strict routines with food.
  • Mood swings.
  • Physical signs, including feeling cold, tired or dizzy, problems with digestion, abnormal weight to height ratio, girls not getting periods.
  • Associated mental health problems including anxiety and depression.

Eating disorders are manageable and there is a good chance of recovery if caught early on. For many young people the treatment includes:

  • Family Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), with a therapist who supports the child to adopt regular eating habits
  • Medication such as antidepressants.

How schools can help

Schools are ideally placed to spot the signs of an eating disorder in a child or young person, and BEAT, the eating disorder charity offers informative training for primary and secondary schools to help staff and students spot the signs. PSHE lessons accommodate the courses.

Exam stress can affect people with eating disorders. Schools should make reasonable adjustments in exams, with the possibility of deferral or administering extenuating circumstances, if necessary. An eating disorder is considered a disability so the special needs coordinator (SENCo) and pastoral support need to be involved at every step.

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