As we prepare for term time, parents of children who struggle with their eating will be concerned about the best ways to support their young person. Author and founder of #DumpTheScales campaign, Hope Virgo, shares her ten tips for setting children up for success.
The start of term brings many different feelings, thoughts and emotions for students, carers and teachers. But when you throw in the ever increasing eating disorder epidemic there is a whole other layer of fear, uncertainty and difficulties.
Looking back at my time at school - while there are a some lovely memories - there is this black hole that hangs over everything, a sadness and shame. At the time I wouldn’t have realised as I was convinced I was fine. But in reality the eating disorder I struggled with was creating a sad, lonely and dark space which stopped me living my life fully.
There’s so much that need to be done across society, and plenty of ways schools can work to ensure they are creating safer environments for everyone. But for now there are things that, as individuals, we can do to make sure we are creating a safe environment for those around us.
Here are ten things you can do to support your loved one as school starts up:
- The changes to routine that happen when we go back to school may mean meal timings change slightly. If someone is on a meal plan this can be tricky, help them prepare for this in the weeks before school starts but changing things up at home to match this.
- If someone has been on a weight restoration plan over the holiday be aware that they might need new uniform or clothes to wear. Get rid of the old stuff at a charity shop and get some new bits for them!
- We need to be mindful of the impact of diet chat, commenting on body size and this goes for staff room and playground chat too! You never know who might be listening or the thoughts it might be triggering in others. Plus, surely we need to move away from normalising eating disorder culture and behaviours?
- School dining rooms can be toxic so having a plan for meal times at school is often helpful. That might be having a few practise meals, working out the quietest time to go along to lunch and making sure they are going with people who cheer them on.
- If they have school lunches, could you ask to see menus at the start of the week and do a practise walk through to get them used to the food before term starts?
- Identify what support they might need during the day. For some this maybe texting them around meal times, or sending a quick reminder to have a snack.
- If your child takes in a packed lunch and they aren’t sure about it, can you take a picture of it to send to their tutor and give the student the option to sit with them at lunch times.
- Have a plan for if their feelings get too much. This might be distractions, sending a text, leaving the table and having a safe space to phone their carer or talk to someone. For me having someone I could text asking about a meal, or having someone I could say “I am eating but feel <insert emotion here>” really helped in those moments when my brain was finding it really hard.
- Plan for triggers - how will they navigate the inevitable diet chat, the conversations around bodies? What skills can we give them so they don’t get thrown off course?
- Remember that eating disorders aren’t about food or exercise. Keep checking in on that person’s mental health, give them the space to talk, remember someone who is eating or looks physically healthy isn’t necessarily totally recovered!