How Health Class Triggered My Eating Disorder

It’s that time of the year when kids say goodbye to summer and return to school. While the current state of the world is posing unprecedented challenges to students, that transition—even under more normal circumstances—was always difficult for me. Whether it was in eighth grade when I rapidly spiraled into an eating disorder days after the school year began or my first hospital admission in the fall of ninth grade or having to medically withdraw from college last year after only one month, going back to school consistently caused quite a few problems.

So you can imagine how much of a relief it is that all that is behind me! I’ve graduated high school, am enrolled in an entirely online college, and am doing well in recovery. But even though my life is generally pretty good, the bad memories continue to haunt me. With fall quickly approaching, I can’t help but think about those dark times and reflect on the role school played in the onset of my mental health struggles.

I attribute one of the contributing factors of my eating disorder to my seventh-grade health class when we spent an entire unit learning how to calculate BMI, watching documentaries on the dangers of obesity, and listening to the teacher tell us again and again that fats are bad. This disastrous unit concluded with a rushed final project where we had to choose a type of disordered eating and research it using a scant collection of library books and the inherently toxic internet. Like most of the girls in my class, I chose anorexia nervosa.

But as harmless as the assignment might have seemed to that teacher, researching anorexia on my own when I was in such a vulnerable and self-conscious place in my life was a recipe for disaster. Instead of being repulsed by the unpleasant side-effects and emaciated bodies, I was curious, even a little fascinated. In my misguided research, I stumbled upon a pro-ana forum, where users posted tips and tricks on how to get away with not eating and basically promoted a life-threatening mental illness as a glamorous lifestyle.

I doubt it’s a coincidence that this was around the time when I went on my first diet, even if there were other factors concurrently contributing to my building insecurities. I was on a health-kick for months, eating enough to maintain a slightly-below-average weight but lacking in most of the basic food groups. In eighth grade, as my life was starting to spiral out of control, I was subjected to another misinformed health teacher who once had us write up what we ate in a day and actually praised my low-carb, low-fat, low-everything diet.

When I was admitted to an outpatient eating disorder program in November of eighth grade, I was quickly exempt from health class. It turns out that my experience wasn’t rare and that health class triggering disordered eating was a common occurrence. In fact, over the years, I’ve met many people who had similar stories and many ED experts—including my current therapist and nutritionist—who criticized the nutrition curriculum in schools.

I do think that it’s important to learn about nutrition. That said, telling insecure teenagers to watch what they eat isn’t an effective approach. Encouraging balance and moderation is better, but even then it must be done sensitively and knowledgeably. To teachers, administrators, parents, and any adult with the power to influence a young person, I ask you to please be aware of the impact your words have. Educate, don’t assume; inform, don’t criticize; most importantly, listen.

I’m sharing my story so that other students hopefully won’t have to go through what I did. Life is already hard enough as it is. The last thing a young person needs is to feel guilted or judged by the same adults who are supposed to be there for them no matter what.

– Julia

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Nourish is all about wholesome food preparation for those with disordered eating. Our mission is to provide delicious recipes anyone can make at home, along with education and support for individuals recovering from eating disorders and their caregivers.

30 thoughts on “How Health Class Triggered My Eating Disorder

  1. Thank you for opening up about this, you are helping so many other girls out there with your recipes and stories. 🙂 I don’t understand why some teachers would make people write down what they ate; kids and teens can choose how they eat and if it is unhealthy, they can make their own decisions. I recently did a project on Anorexia for my health class. Learning about it has opened my heart to those who are going through that. I am glad you found a passion for food blogging, instead of worrying. Haha, sorry for writing so much. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re very welcome! I, too, am at a loss for words for why teachers feel that it’s necessary to tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat. The way that nutrition is taught in schools is very problematic and needs to change, and I’m hopeful that by opening up about my experience, it’ll help a bit. Thanks for your kind words, they mean a lot 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. I never know health class was so triggering for disordered eating. Terrible that inadvertently it led to triggering your journey. Thank you for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Poor Julia, so sorry for the experience you made. You are so right, we adult people should reflect any word and advice twice, before telling  our youngsters. I hope schools and the ministers of education learn out of your report and you can help other young people with the bad experience you unfortunately made. You certainly grew into a very special critical, careful and sensitive young woman by means of this experience. Nothing is in vain. It will form your life and I hope, that soon autumn won’t scare you any more and you will be willed to see it’s beauty and its pleasant sides. Although, it is always sad, that another year has almost passed by. Our babushka was often in distress , when fall announced his coming and loved spring for the announcing of a whole year. I feel the same. I admire the way you write. Much love and strength and confidence in life inspite of the problems, we have to bear. yours Lala

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  4. My mom use to fat shame us growing up while over feeding us carbs and fat all the time to plump is up! It never made sense! With my own kids I teach them eating for health but a good balance and never fat or skinny shame them. We are all beautiful and must embrace the skin we are in❤️thanks for speaking up! So encouraging! Do you still struggle with body image?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry your mom did that to you! I’m glad that you’re teaching your children healthier eating habits and body positivity (like every adult should tbh). I still struggle with body image, but it’s improved a lot. It’s taken years and a lot of hardship, but it’s worth it because now I can finally appreciate my body. Thanks for reading and for being an awesome mom ❤

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  5. This is so true and I agree with you that a balance is needed. Nutrition is important for kids to learn about but they also need the context that goes with it. I had a similar experience at school to you and ended up with a totally distorted body image that triggered years of yo-yo dieting. It is tough to overcome but I really like the words you use like “nourish” and “balance”. Thanks for sharing and kudos to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry you had a similar experience. I wish more people would recognize how harmful the nutrition curriculums in schools can be instead of continuing to ignore it so fewer kids would have to deal with this. Thank you for reading the post and I hope that you were able to overcome your struggles too.


  6. I was always underweight, but in my twenties decided to try a low fat diet. Lost weight, did great, but i did find that when i was depressed, seriously, clinically depressed, i would feel like eating meant life and since life wasnt good, eating was punishment. I lost a dangerous amount if weight. The second time in my life this started to happen, i recognized it and got help. Getting that help, recognizing what is happening, and knowing a better way exists is do important. Glad to hear you are doing better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Madeline! I’m glad to hear you’re doing better as well. It can be hard to ask for help–and even harder to make a change for the better–but I completely agree that both are very important steps in recovery.


  7. Thank you for writing so clearly about this topic. I just shared this page with an administrator at my daughter’s school who look perplexed when I asked that she not talk about dieting and “healthy” living around my daughter who is recovering from Anorexia Nervosa. How do we get school curricula to catch up???

    All the best,


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