Eating Disorders, Fussy Eating, and Reforming the School Curriculum Finally

Eating Disorders, Fussy EATING, Reforming the School Curriculum Finally 16
Eating Disorders, Fussy EATING, Reforming the School Curriculum Finally

I was pleased to read this article in The Age. It is about time that we addressed the impact of the school curriculum on disordered eating. Imagine a classroom where children are tasked with recording each other’s weight and height, calculating BMI, plotting the results on a graph, converting kilojoules to calories, and compiling diet advice for fictional case studies. I am horrified, and I hope you are too. I am also hopeful because finally, we are going to remove some of the references the curriculum uses around weight, healthy eating, and food. We have to ask ourselves how seemingly innocent assignments categorising foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy” can contribute to disordered eating behaviours.

Support for Positive Changes in Curriculum

This overhaul, set to take place in 2024 and 2025, comes as a result of a successful advocacy campaign aimed at preventing the development and relapse of eating disorders among students. The Butterfly Foundation provides further context to the challenges faced by students regarding disordered eating. Their observations highlight a troubling trend wherein students experience food-related stigma, bullying, and pressure to conform to unrealistic dietary standards. The emergence of ‘healthy eating clubs’ and incidents of ‘food shaming’ indicate a pervasive culture that may contribute to negative body image and eating disorders among young people.

As a passionate advocate for children’s well-being, I couldn’t agree more with the urgency of these changes. I love talking to teenagers in schools and always talk about appetite and pleasure of eating.

Personal Experience Supporting Children with Eating Difficulties

In my work supporting extreme fussy eaters and those with conditions like ARFID or PFD, often coupled with autism and ADHD, I am well aware of how difficult it is for these children to eat regular food, if any food at all, in the school environment. Schools can inadvertently exacerbate issues by promoting “healthy eating” without considering the diverse needs of all students. I want to question the use of expressions like “eating brain food” for the morning fruit break, because research shows that this may stops children rather than encourage them[1]. Instrumentalising eating basically is more likely to backfire. For the children I see, it is guaranteed because they cannot use logic to eat the food that is pushed on them, if they  push it, they may gag or vomit, because the body decides.

Call for Improved School Environments

As we applaud changes being made to the curriculum for children’s wellbeing, it’s vital to extend this conversation to encompass the diverse needs of students dealing with eating difficulties. In particular, I would like to see children eating in comfortable, structured environments, with sufficient time to relax and enjoy their meals. In other words we can stop instrumentalising eating, while providing an environment that supports mealtime.

In conclusion, it’s imperative that we address the impact of the school environment on disordered eating and take concrete steps to create healthier spaces for our children. By recognising the importance of a supportive school environment, advocating for changes in curriculum, fostering a culture of acceptance, respect, and body positivity within schools, while considering the diverse needs of students, we can work towards promoting positive relationships with food and preventing the development of eating disorders. Let’s strive to create schools where every child feels valued and supported in their journey towards a healthy relationship with food.  The Butterfly Foundation urges educators to reassess their methods of nutrition education and establish nurturing environments promoting positive body image in schools through participation in the Body Kind Schools program.[1]

Michal Maimaran, Ayelet Fishbach, If It’s Useful and You Know It, Do You Eat? Preschoolers Refrain from Instrumental Food, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 41, Issue 3, 1 October 2014, Pages 642–655,

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