An Anxious Return: Eating Disorders among School Children
September. The word brings a range of thoughts and feelings to us all. For some children, September is a positive time: a chance to reconnect with friends or an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. For adults, it can also be a positive time as we bid our darling ones farewell at the school gate – and breathe a quiet sigh of relief! For many, it is a time to try something new or a fresh start.
But for many children and young people, the return to school is accompanied by dread. As a child, I did not welcome the return to school either. I was bright and I had nice friends. Everyone said that I would ‘do well’. But inside I didn’t feel that at all! With hindsight I can see that I was struggling with anxiety. It’s a word we hear so much these days in relation to children and young people and how so many are struggling with mental health issues.
Fast forward a few years and, as an adult and by now a fully fledged secondary school teacher (how ironic!) September brought different thoughts and feelings. I felt excitement at the thought of new possibilities and opportunities…but also, I admit, a little bit of fear: How on earth was I going to learn another 120 names!
However, the thing that often struck me when I was teaching was the pupils’ frequent references to dieting. They would admit to not eating breakfast or they were on some new fandangled (read: bizarre) diet. This was particularly alarming for me because I struggled with an eating disorder for many years, and it started in my mid-teens when I felt under a lot of pressure. Now, whether that pressure was real or only perceived is neither here nor there. The important thing is that it was a real feeling for me, regardless of what anyone else said. My journey into an eating disorder was in many ways very typical: I thought that life would somehow be better if I was a bit slimmer. So I went on a diet, but the target of feeling ‘better’ always eluded me – so I’d try harder. And harder. Fortunately, in my mid 20s I was fully healed and restored and ever since I’ve had a heart for those struggling with an eating disorder.
So hearing talk of skipping meals and fad dieting made me want to get a megaphone and shout “don’t do it!” to the whole school! I wanted to do something but plans were shelved as I ended up moving abroad for a while. Then, in 2018 at New Wine, I discovered tastelife. I immediately knew that this was the charity I wanted to get involved with and I signed up to train as a leader to run their community course to help anyone affected by problems with food and eating. I am so thankful to have this chance to bring light and truth into the lives of those struggling. The stories of hope and recovery we are privileged to hear about are so inspiring! And in 2020, I joined the amazing tastelife team as Coordinator for our new preventative resource for young people called ‘Youth Track’. I just wish I’d had it when I was teaching!
written by Cherry Dakin
Youth Track Coordinator