The diagnosis of eating disorder must be made by a qualified medical professional. It is important that school personnel be aware that they may be coming into contact with students with eating disorders or symptoms resembling eating disorders. If you suspect a student in your school is suffering from an eating disorder, you may want to discuss this with their parent or guardian. You will need to be clear with them that you are not qualified to make a diagnosis but can relate behaviors you have observed which may indicate there is a health issue that should be addressed. If a diagnosis if eating disorder is made, you may be asked to assist in monitoring behaviors and eating habits.
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About 90 to 95 percent of the cases of anorexia and bulimia nervosa occur in females. Anorexia usually develops in adolescence, between the ages of 14 and 18, while bulimia is more likely to develop in the late teens or early 20s. Estimates are that anorexia occurs in about 0.5 percent of adolescent girls, and bulimia in about 1 to 2 percent, although various symptoms and milder versions of these disorders occur in about 5 to 10 percent of young women. Anorexia involves people who intentionally starve themselves when they are already underweight. Individuals with anorexia have a body weight that is 15 percent or more below recommended levels (as determined by a standard height-weight table). Anorexics have an intense fear of becoming fat, even when they are extremely underweight, and usually have a distorted view of their bodies. Many females with anorexia stop having their menstrual cycle (period) for several months, a condition called amenorrhea.
Persons with bulimia nervosa consume large amounts of food during "binge" episodes in which they feel out of control of their eating. Following a "binge" episode, they try to prevent weight gain by vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, dieting and/or exercising aggressively. Bulimics are very dissatisfied with their body shape and weight, and their self-esteem is unduly influenced by their appearance. To receive a formal diagnosis of bulimia nervosa, an individual must engage in binging and purging (vomiting, etc.) at least twice a week for three months. However, less frequent episodes of binging and purging may still be very upsetting and require professional assistance.