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Anorexia Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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What Teachers Should Know

Anorexia is an eating disorder that makes people extremely afraid of gaining weight and gives them a distorted view of their body shape and size. These fears and misperceptions can lead them to restrict how much food they eat through dieting, fasting, and exercising excessively. Some students with anorexia may eat a lot of food (binge eat) and then get rid of the calories by forcing themselves to vomit (purge). Anorexia is likely caused by a combination of psychological, genetic, and social factors.

Anorexia can cause health problems due to undernutrition and low body weight, such as:

  • drops in blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate
  • irregular menstrual periods
  • bloating, stomach pain, and constipation
  • weakened bones
  • anemia
  • delayed puberty and poor growth

In extreme cases, anorexia can cause severe malnutrition, serious heart problems, and even death.

Students with anorexia may:

  • look thin or lose weight quickly
  • feel self-conscious about their appearance and may wear baggy clothes to hide weight loss
  • act withdrawn, depressed, or anxious around classmates
  • be tired, moody, or irritable
  • feel cold or dizzy
  • skip meals and avoid going to the cafeteria
  • exercise as much as possible
  • have trouble with concentration, focus, and memory
  • miss class time and assignments due to medical appointments
  • need support from a school counselor or school nurse

What Teachers Can Do

Early detection is the best way to successfully treat eating disorders such as anorexia. If you know or suspect that a student has anorexia, it is important to refer them for assistance. The school counselor or school nurse can help.

In your classroom, maintain an atmosphere that promotes health and wellness without focusing on weight. Demonstrating healthy attitudes about food, exercise, and body image can help set a good example for your students.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021