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Behavioral Interventions for Extreme Student Weight Loss

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will look at some of the behavioral interventions and therapeutic treatments for students with extreme weight loss that is likely attributed to an eating disorder.

Imagine you are teaching a class and have a student named Suzy. She is well liked by her peers, funny and smart. Some of Suzy's friends come to you one day because they are concerned: Suzy has thrown her lunch away every day this week and has been complaining that she feels fat. What do you do?

Unfortunately, boys and girls of all ages are living in a world that is constantly telling them they aren't the perfect size, and it is starting at an early age. How do teachers combat these negative messages and what are the steps to helping these students? In this lesson we will look at behaviorial interventions for extreme weight loss.

Responding to Extreme Weight Loss

Teachers spend a large amount of time with students and need to be on the lookout for physical and emotional changes in their students. If a teacher notices something that is alarming in one of their students, there are steps they should follow to ensure the safety of the student. Teachers should proceed by first talking with the student, then alerting other faculty members or a school counselor, keeping notes on the student for records, and initiating discussions with the parents. Seeking professional help would be a decision of the parents and the child, but a teacher might be the first to notice an issue that warrants more intensive interventions.

Let's go back to Suzy. Her friends have come to you and discussed their concern. The next step would be to talk to Suzy. Be careful not to accuse her in a way that makes her feel like she is in trouble. Approach her informally and feel out the situation. Alerting other teachers or a counselor is a good way to have more people observing her behavior throughout the day. Contacting Suzy's parents would be a good idea as well. Share with them the log you have been keeping of her not eating snacks, throwing away treats, etc. Then proceed as a team in the best interest of Suzy.

Creating Culture

Even without specific students who seem at risk, how do teachers create a positive space in the classroom for feeling healthy and confident and beautiful? Teachers need to create a positive body culture in the classroom and check with students who seem to be affected by negative messages about their body image. Teachers can encourage students to participate in the body positivity movement by looking into many resources available online and providing resources to students who need help.

Part of having a classroom culture that promotes healthy living and positive body image may be to incorporate yoga breaks with students. Teachers can also practice healthy snacking habits to model such behaviors for students. They should be mindful of students who may seem withdrawn during lunch or snack times and look for students who are being bullied about their bodies and try to intervene. Finally, finding ways to connect messages to improve self-esteem and positive body image into the class will help empower students and make them feel confident.

Communicating Appropriately

Teachers can model appropriate communication about eating disorders to create a class culture that is helpful and respectful to struggling students. There are many programs and campaigns that have proven effective to help teachers convey these messages. Effectively communicating with students at their developmental level and with the goal of reducing judgment and dismantling myths can encourage students to view struggling students with compassion. In the case of Suzy, this could help her friends understand that Suzy's choices to throw her lunch away are much deeper than wanting to be skinny.

With Youth

Youth respond to culturally appropriate messages that reinforce body positive, healthy behaviors, while empowering students toward self-determination and high self esteem. They will also need specific instruction in media literacy and dismantling perfectionism.

One powerful activity is to take apart a magazine and separate substantive content from advertising. Teachers can help students look critically at the messages in the advertising. This is a powerful exercise showing students that beauty standards are a way to make people always wanting more.

With Families

It is critical that teachers provide support to the students' families when trying to intervene on behalf of a student. Like the instructors brought in to keep an eye on Suzy, the family can provide extra observations to make sure she stays safe.

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