Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Center Blog
How to Help a Student with an Eating Disorder

How to Help a Student with an Eating Disorder

College is a challenging time and exciting time, with many students on their own for the first time, and struggling with a new level of stress and pressure. Eating disorder symptoms can develop in response to life stressors or traumatic events, becoming negative strategies for coping with overwhelming emotions or circumstances. Helping a student with an eating disorder, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms and how to approach an effective conversation. The effects of disordered eating will show in both emotional and physical ways, and in students it can have a negative impact on ability to perform in school. Characteristics like dramatic weight loss, negative or distorted self-image, intense fear of gaining weight, obsessive or compulsive fixation on diet and exercise tend to be commonly recognized behaviors. Subtle signs may include perfectionism or constant critique of others and self, withdrawal from friends and family, increased depression or mood swings and inability to appropriately acknowledge the severity in these symptoms, often dismissing or making light of visible problems. It’s important before making any assumptions or decisions to talk through your concerns with the individual. Because eating disorders often prompt emotional responses, it’s important to start any initial conversation with temperance and sensitivity, speaking honestly about your concerns and focusing on finding solutions to current difficulties. After talking through concerns, you can encourage them to seek help or treatment with the multitude of student services available. Helping a student with an eating disorder may begin with doing some background research into the kinds of support services available in their university or town, before you sit down to talk. Encouraging students to contact their university and seek counseling allows the student to establish an appropriate network of support for their health and well-being. The goal of assisting students with issues such as disordered eating is to promote confidence in their ability to succeed; emotional support is not necessarily focusing on the food or weight issue, but giving moral support and being present and available to talk. Depending on the severity of an eating disorder, it may be prudent for the student to take a medical leave and focus on recovery before resuming the arduous routine of college life. College campuses are supportive of this measure as well, and in the long run it’s more important students are able to operate with healthy coping skills than to finish their education within a certain time frame. The priority for the individual is to find a balance between managing their life, professional help and support from friends and family to sustain a long lasting and healthy recovery.