Students with Eating Disorders


Eating disorders are not necessarily about food, but food is the substance that people with eating disorders abuse. Eating disorders have both physical and psychological symptoms. They are characterized by problematic attitudes and feelings about food, weight and body shape, a disruption in eating behaviours and weight management, and intense anxiety about body weight and size. Eating disorders arise from a combination of psychological, interpersonal, and socio-cultural factors and have serious emotional, mental, and medical consequences. Eating disorders usually refer to anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and/or binge eating behaviour.


Characteristics of anorexia nervosa include:

  • severe restriction of food intake

  • self-starvation

  • refusal to maintain minimally normal weight

  • intense fear of weight and fat

  • obsessive focus on weight as a basis of self-worth 


Characteristics of bulimia include:


  • excessive concern with body weight/shape

  • recurrent episodes of binge eating and “purging behaviours,” such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxatives, diuretics, and diet pills

  • fasting

  • excessive exercise.


Binge eating behaviour is characterized by recurrent episodes of excessive overeating that are not followed by inappropriate compensatory behaviours (purging) to prevent weight gain.


Depression/anxiety often accompanies eating disorders.


What you can do


  • Select a time to talk to the student when you are not rushed and won’t be interrupted.


  • In a direct and non-punitive manner, indicate to the student all the specific observations that have aroused your concern, trying not to focus on body weight or food.


  • Your responsibilities are not to diagnose or provide therapy; it is the development of a compassionate and forthright conversation that ultimately helps a student in trouble find understanding, support, and the proper therapeutic resources.





  • Placing shame, blame, or guilt on your student regarding actions or attitudes.


  • Giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”


  • Intentionally or unintentionally becoming the student’s therapist, saviour, or victim.

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Thatcham, Berkshire

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