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Eating Disorder Prevention: Advice for Educators

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by Lindsay Trowbridge

 

As the Outreach and Prevention Coordinator at Healthy Within, an eating disorders treatment center in San Diego, I have been providing presentations to high school students about eating disorders and body image issues for the past 3 years and have spoken to over 3,000 students. I would like to pass on to you what I have learned over the years about presentations concerning eating disorders, with the hope that it will enable you to choose the best speaker for your students.

The research shows that providing presentations to students about eating disorders--presentations that inform them about the behaviors, signs, symptoms, health consequences, etc.--are ineffective in preventing eating disorders and may actually backfire by glamorizing eating disorders and teaching students harmful weight loss "tricks" such as purging and severely restricting their food intake, which they may in turn experiment with.

It is useful to provide some education about eating disorders, but it is unnecessary (and potentially harmful) to go into great detail. The goal in teaching/presenting on eating disorders should be to PREVENT eating disorders. To prevent eating disorders, eating disorders curriculum should focus on the some of the following:

  1. Teach children the health hazards of dieting (Dieting is a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, therefore preventing students from dieting is key in preventing eating disorders)
  2. Teach children respect and tolerance for diversity of body sizes. Establish a zero tolerance policy on teasing about body size.
  3. Help children identify the conditions in their lives that contribute to their eating and body image struggles and assist them in finding their own solutions.
  4. Teach children to listen to their bodies: To eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full, and to eat the foods that nourish them and give them energy.
  5. Teach children to be critical viewers of the media so that they are better able to resist harmful media messages.
  6. Teach children to respect and honor their bodies by not using diet pills, steroids, or metabolife and teach them why these substances are harmful.

I strongly encourage you to find a speaker who focuses on the topics listed above, as such a speaker will have the greatest positive impact on your students. I also encourage you to visit Healthy Within's website and visit our "Tips for School Personnel on Teaching Eating Disorders Curriculum."

One last note: Having someone who has had an eating disorder come and speak can be very powerful. However it is important that the speaker not talk about their behaviors (as they might teach the students weight loss "tricks"), numbers, calories, their weight(s) etc (as some students might fixate on the numbers and adopt them as their goal weight/calorie intake etc). The speaker should instead focus on feelings, the experiences that lead up to the development of the disorder and the consequences.

I hope that you find the information I have provided useful! If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us at Healthy Within, (858) 622-0221.

Lindsay Trowbridge
Outreach and Prevention Coordinator, Healthy Within

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