27 Oct 2023

World Teacher’s Day: How educators can support eating disorder recovery


Today is World Teacher’s Day, and we’re sending a big Butterfly thank you to all the educators who support their students who are experiencing eating disorders and body image concerns.

While we often focus on the improvements that need to be made within the education system, it’s important to recognise the superstar teachers out there who are already doing everything they can to support their students to live happy, healthy, fulfilled lives while being kind to their bodies and others’.

Educators are in an incredible position to set the next generation up for success, and how they respond to mental health concerns, like eating disorders, can play a pivotal role in a young person’s recovery.

Jess was one of those people. Jess experienced an eating disorder as a teenager, and credits part of her recovery to the support she received from her teachers at school. Since recovering from her eating disorder, Jess is now a passionate sessional presenter for Butterfly, delivering our prevention-focused, body image presentations to young people Australia-wide.

In this blog, we asked Jess how her teachers’ support helped in her eating disorder recovery, and we also share tips and resources for teachers looking to upskill in this area.

How did your teachers influence your eating disorder recovery?

“My school supported me greatly, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Performing Arts Department at Beaconhills College and my school principal, Sam Watson, for their support.

The space and time I was given during Year 11 allowed me to progress significantly in my relationship with food and my body. This allowed me to complete Year 12 successfully.

I am a different person today because of this experience. I am a fully recovered 24-year-old who has finally travelled the world and is continuing to further her psychology education and achieve those ambitious goals!

I hope I am making you proud and that you understand your significant role in my journey.”

What did your teacher/s do that made a difference?

“My teachers reassured me that taking time off school for my health was necessary, and they did not push me to keep my grades up.

They understood the kind of student I was: a high achiever who still placed immense pressure on herself no matter what. My teachers emphasised the importance of my health over my grades and advised me to prioritise my recovery.

They informed me that continuing on the same destructive path would not be sustainable, and I wouldn’t be able to achieve the ambitious goals I had set for myself.

I don’t like to imagine what would have happened if I received external pressure regarding my studies!”

What advice would you give to teachers who are unsure how to support best their students struggling with body image concerns/disordered eating/eating disorders?

“Research has shown a strong correlation between eating disorders, disordered eating, perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (Halmi et al., 2005; Lilenfeld et al., 2006; Young et al., 2013).

The constant reminder from my teachers that my worth was not dependent on my grades and performance provided me with the space and time to make significant progress in my eating disorder recovery.

If the school had pressured me to continue performing at this high level, I would be in a different place today.

There was a considerable link between my eating disorder, my school work and my high-performing nature, and I wouldn’t have recovered if I hadn’t taken time off school.

When it comes to VCE, in particular, teachers must understand the links between eating disorders and high-performing students’ risk factors.”

In the future, how would you like to see schools/teachers approach body image and eating disorders?

“Teachers, in collaboration with the school’s wellbeing team, should take time to understand what is causing the individual’s body image struggles. Is it the situation at home, personality-based, or related to the individual’s friend group?

These issues rarely exist in isolation. A deeper understanding can help teachers adapt their teaching to the needs of their students. In addition, they can make changes within the school environment to better suit the individual.

Disordered eating can spread like wildfire within a friend group, so teachers and school wellbeing teams should check in with an individual’s friends to ensure that certain behaviours aren’t becoming normalised (Hutchinson & Rapee, 2007)”

Resources for Teachers

Supporting the recovery of students with eating disorders in schools

The prevalence of eating disorders amongst adolescents is high and has increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.

It is likely that a number of students may be impacted in some way, and schools can play an important role in the prevention, identification, and early intervention of eating disorders and supporting the recovery of their students.

Every school should consider their existing capacity and capability to support students with eating disorders, including clear policies and guidelines. If you’re not sure where to start, use our guide, Supporting the recovery of students with eating disorders in schools. 

Professional development training

Butterfly’s professional development works can help equip educators and professionals with the knowledge, confidence and resources to support positive body image and healthy behaviours in young people. Held multiple times per year via zoom, our small group workshops are prevention focused and explore topics like:

  • The spectrum of behaviours from healthy, unhealthy to disordered
  • The importance of healthy body-esteem and knowledge of modifiable risk and protective factors
  • How to foster a positive body image environment through education, awareness and policy
  • Identification of people at risk of an eating disorder
  • Early Intervention and referral support
  • Supporting students with eating disorders

Our workshop ‘Body Image Training for Educators’ also contributes to two hours of NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) Accredited PD in the priority area of Student/child mental health. To view currently available workshops, click here. To be kept up to date on future sessions, register for Butterfly’s education newsletter.

Body Kind Schools

Body Kind Schools is Australia’s largest annual positive body image movement for young people (aged 11-18 years) providing free and engaging activities to help young Australians find ways to be kind to their own body and to others.

Body Kind Schools encourages schools (late Primary and Secondary), and other youth settings to focus on the significant topic of body image through a strength-based and positive mental health promotion initiative that is designed to foster positive environments for all young people, in all bodies!

Body Kind Schools is celebrated annually in the first full week of September to coincide with Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week, but the activities and resources are flexible, meaning you can implement the content when it works best for you and your school.

Butterfly Body Bright

Designed to be integrated into Australian primary schools, Butterfly Body Bright is a strength-based, evidence-informed body image program providing resources and support to teachers and their broader school community. The program aims to promote healthy attitudes and behaviours towards the body, eating and physical activity in children, so they can thrive at school and in life.

Our whole-of-school approach includes school culture guidelines, online & self-paced staff professional development training, 50 age and developmentally appropriate lesson plans aligned to the Australian curriculum, and free resources for families to continue the Body Bright messaging at home.

Butterfly Body Bright is available to all Australian primary schools for an annual fee of $375 per school.

Further reading & resources

  • Halmi, K. A., Tozzi, F., Thornton, L. M., et al. (2005). The relation among perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder in individuals with eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38(4), 371-374. https:// doi.org/10.1002/eat.20190
  • Hutchinson, D. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2007). Do friends share similar body image and eating problems? The role of social networks and peer influences in early adolescence. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45(7), 1557-1577. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2006.11.007
  • Lilenfeld, L. R., Wonderlich, S., Riso, L. P, et al. (2006). Eating disorders and personality: A methodological and empirical review. Clinical Psychology Review, 26(3), 299-320. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2005.10.003
  • Young, S., Rhodes, P., Touyz, S., & Hay, P. (2013). The relationship between obsessive-compulsive personality disorder traits, obsessive-compulsive disorder and excessive exercise in patients with anorexia nervosa: A systematic review. Journal of Eating Disorders, 1(1). https://doi.org/ 10.1186/2050-2974-1-16

Related tags: Body Image Eating disorder recovery eating disorders in school educators Lived Experience Recovery schools support supporting students with eating disorders teachers World teacher's day