Battling an Eating Disorder while Studying: You Will Survive

By Jennifer Lewis

Eating disorders are a major worry in the US, where up to 24 million people of all ages are affected. Although they are more prevalent in women than men, current figures regarding boys and teens are thought to be conservative, largely because there is a lack of awareness among males as to the nature of eating disorders and many do not seek the help they need because of the misconception that these disorders are ‘a female concern’. Eating disorders not only put a ‘pause’ in a student’s life; they are also a threat to many young people’s lives. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, the mortality rate for anorexia alone is 12 times higher than the death rate for all other causes of death for females aged 15 to 24.

Treatment for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and other eating disorders can take many months, sometimes years. Eating disorders require a united effort by a team of doctors, nutritionists and therapists, as well as family support, if a patient is to recover and build a healthy, positive relationship with food. Some of the most effective therapies for eating disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy, in which patients are encouraged to understand how the way they think and behave, is interrelated, and how changes to both mechanisms, can be used to break free of destructive thought patterns and behaviors. Maudsley Therapy is another popular choice; here, the whole family rallies together to support the patient. The first aim in recovery is always to gain back lost weight. Subsequently, the person recovering is given more control over their food consumption, until they begin to view food in a new and more positive light.

Since treatment can last for various months, the question remains: what happens to the patient’s education? Sometimes, patients can need specialized medical treatment or feel so weak, that going to school is not an option; in this case, homeschooling can be of great aid, since it provides flexibility of hours and subjects covered, so that the student can tackle more difficult tasks when they are feeling stronger, without falling behind as they would if they were attending school. Students overcoming eating disorders may also benefit from tutors, who can personalize content to their ability and interests. Even though the student may wish to go back to school, sometimes, they are not ready for the psychological pressures which run rife among teens. These can include the pressure to be thin, or to conform to strict and unrealistic standards of beauty. By surrounding themselves with supportive friends and family members, those overcoming eating disorders can take the time they need to build a healthier self-image and become more secure in the differences that make them unique. Sometimes, even if a teen or young man/woman is ready and keen on going back to school, their complex dietary needs may also make it necessary to spend more time at home, where parents can ensure they are consuming the amount of calories required by nutritionists.

Parents should be aware that eating disorders are strongly linked with other conditions (such as depression and anxiety). One study found that two thirds of all people with eating disorders also had anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and that over 40 per cent of children developed an anxiety disorder long before their eating disorder began. Therefore, a person recovering from an eating disorder may also be battling panic attacks etc., and school can pose a large stressor that can manifest itself in a lack of motivation to get better, mood swings, a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, etc. Lasting recovery must be approached on a profound level; treatment may be required for depression, anxiety or any other co—existing conditions.

Because homeschooling is so flexible, it allows for more complementary activities than a child or teen would reasonably have if they are attending school all day. Some of the most useful stress busting activities offered at recovery centers include art therapy, dance and yoga (the latter, which relies on a combination of poses, controlled breathing and mindful meditation is so powerful that it has been proven to lower stress levels and reduce fatigue even in patients undergoing the extremely stressful process of radiotherapy). Yoga causes stress hormone levels to drop, as does the creation of art and music. Homeschooling is the ideal way to ensure your child continues to obtain a cherished education, while you cater to their highly specific needs at this challenging time in their lives.

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