I am the owner of a dance studio. I also teach dance at a local school. One of my students at my studio and school confronted me last year about a problem with eating. We talked things out and she said she would be ok. She went to dance in NYC for the last year and came back a few weeks ago. She used to be so beautiful and graceful; now she looks like a living skeleton. Before she left for NYC, she was a thin, 5'11", 130 lbs. Now she is a sickly 110 lbs. She now denies her problem along with her mother. I know she desperately needs help before it's too late, but I don't know what else I can do. Please help!
Although it's not clear if your student has received an actual diagnosis, it can be difficult to navigate situations when an eating disorder is seemingly apparent to others, but the person affected is in denial. While you can't demand that your student seek help, there are ways to open up the conversations so that she’s aware of your support moving forward. You may also point your student in the direction of resources if she does decide to seek treatment.
Your concerns are certainly justified. Not only has your student come to you in the past regarding her eating patterns, but eating disorders can have a number of long-term impacts, including, but not limited to: muscle loss and weakness, reduction of bone density, fainting and fatigue, and increased risk of heart failure. Having the conversation with her about your concerns can be difficult, but Worried about a loved one with bulimia in the Go Ask Alice! archives has some great tips on how to start and continue the conversation. Doing this sooner, rather than later, may help to prevent any additional impacts from her potentially disordered eating.
During your conversation, you may learn that her eating patterns are changing due to an underlying issue; complex family problems and other psychological factors often surround eating disorders. If the student has an eating disorder, her mother may be in denial, or she may feel embarrassed, helpless, or frustrated by her daughter's behavior. You might want to reiterate to her mother how worried you are and let her know you’d like to help. Perhaps you can research some eating disorder programs or specialists in their area and, if her mother seems open to the idea, you could give her some names and phone numbers. The National Eating Disorders Association's How to Help a Loved One has more information about how to help people with eating disorders. You may also want to encourage your student to speak with a health care provider who is familiar with eating disorders.
Lastly, it’s also worth noting that even after these conversations with your student and her mother, she may still deny there’s a problem. Sometimes, there’s a limit to how much you can do to help someone who may have an eating disorder. However, you’ve made the most significant choice you can — to express your concern and support. People seek help for themselves when they are ready and sometimes their timetable is different than what you would expect. As a caring adult in this student's life, you can continue to be a source of support no matter how she chooses to proceed.Alice!