This article was written by Cathy Cook, LLPC, TLLP, RD Nutritional Therapist at Life Coach Psychology and an active member of SMEDA.
Going Back to School for Middle and High School Students
The start of middle and high school brings excitement to see old friends, meet new friends, and the possibility to learn new material and succeed. The new school year can also bring anxiety ridden thoughts of “will I fit in?”, “can I succeed in school?” and “where will I sit for lunch and with who?” Going back to school can be an exciting, hopeful time but can also be a dreadful, anxious time, especially with an eating disorder.
Before getting into tips with the transition, it’s important to understand an aspect of adolescence. All adolescents experience to some degree aspects of egocentrism which was first discussed by psychologist David Elkind. He described two related beliefs of natural self-centered behavior, which can be seen in the late tween and teen years: the “imaginary audience” which includes a belief that peers are watching and critiquing their every move, and the “personal fable,” a belief that they are somehow special, unique and invincible. Why am I bringing this into a discussion of eating disorders in middle and high school? Because this is the target age of those thoughts and behaviors that can exacerbate eating disorder behaviors, and keeping them in mind may provide an opportunity for discussion and understanding.
Knowing your child, and considering normal adolescence, here are some thoughts to help ease the transition:
1) Start the new school routine a few days or week ahead including sleep patterns and meal times.
2) Discuss expectations of meals including morning breakfast, snacks and lunch, monitoring to ensure a balanced meal is prepared including a protein source, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.
3) Talk about possible triggers exploring the obvious and unseen, considering friends and fitting in, bullying, boyfriends and girlfriends, drive to succeed and possibilities of failure.
4) Consider after-school activities which your child would enjoy, as this is a time when kids who are home before their parents may binge or engage in eating disorder behaviors.
5) If there is an active eating disorder, consider meeting with the school counselor or nurse to discuss monitoring mealtime intake, snacks and activity level during the day. It may be necessary to arrange meals to be eaten with the counselor, however be aware that friends may question this and want to be included.
6) With an active eating disorder or recovery, be firm with ground rules and willing to implement if needed. If a meal is skipped or weight is not being maintained, have an alternate plan in place such as eating with your child at school or being sidelined from sports. Being clear and communicating ground rules is a must.
Good communication, a plan, and knowing where to go for help if needed can help ease the transition back to school. Remember, being confident about your child’s recovery can increase both their confidence in their own recovery and in school.
Lock, J., & Le Grange, D. (2015). Help your teenager beat an eating disorder (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
What is Adolescent Egocentrism. (2017). https://www.verywell.com/