Author: Benthe Geerdink

Eating disorders often start to appear in puberty or early adolescence (Buro PUUR 2020). In fact, according to statistics, eating disorders are most prevalent among 15 to 19-year olds (Schieving 2019). This is a period in life that most people spend in school, be it still in high school or in their first years of tertiary education. Having a severe illness like Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa undoubtedly impacts someone’s school life, but in what ways?

Physical Challenges

The bodies of people with eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa do not get the nutrients and energy they need (Office on Women’s Health 2018). This shortage in nutrients and energy causes eating disorder patients to feel very tired, which can make the hours spent at school physically draining and unpleasant (Oliver-Pyatt Center 2020).

Jiami Jongejan, a social media influencer from The Hague who suffered from Anorexia Nervosa in her high school years, confirms this in her autobiography when talking about her school days. “I am hungry all day long and feel super weak,” she writes. “After school all my strength is gone. I cycle home as fast as I still can and then immediately go to bed” (Jongejan 2017).

Another experience Jiami recalls is the constant sensation of feeling cold. She explains, “My fingers are often blue, and in class I am knows as ‘the heater child’ because I always move close to the heating to stay warm” (Jongejan 2017). This is a common physical struggle for students with eating disorders (Mehler and Brown 2015). People who are not getting enough nourishment lack a consistent flow of warm, calorie-heated blood to their limbs, causing them to feel cold in temperatures of classrooms that other students might deem comfortable (Gaudiani 2015).

Mental Challenges

Since food occupies the minds of eating disorder patients, they often experience an inability to concentrate on their schoolwork (Livingston and Sammons 2006). From a survey of over 1000 American patients with a diagnosed eating disorder, it was found that “people with anorexia nervosa report 90 to 100 percent of their waking time is spent thinking about food, weight and hunger” (Office on Women’s Health 2005). For Bulimia patients, this number was about 70 to 90 percent (Office on Women’s Health 2005). By comparison, the average person with healthy eating habits only thinks about food for 10 to 15 percent of the time that they are awake (Office on Women’s Health 2005).

An eating disorder can also cause someone’s memory to deteriorate. In fact, recent studies have shown that “severe cases of anorexia nervosa may appear on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to be indistinguishable from the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease” (Mehler and Brown 2015).

Social Challenges

Finally, for most people food is a very important aspect of socializing, something especially apparent in settings such as secondary schools and university (Healthtalk 2018). 17-year old Eva – who was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at just 14 years old – explains that lunch time in high school is considered “key social time” as it is an opportunity to engage with your friends outside of the classroom (Healthtalk 2018). University student Katherine describes a similar trend: “A lot happens at dinner time and everyone chills out and everyone chats. […] A lot of the news gets spread around dinnertime” (Healthtalk 2018). Students suffering from an eating disorder may skip these social events however, causing them to feel left out.


While our first association with eating disorders may often be nutrition, it is important to keep in mind that they affect much more than someone’s relationship with food. Students with an eating disorder might not be able to join the field hockey team because they feel too cold and weak. They may skip out on study groups because they are too tired to think. They may feel isolated and alone due to skipping communal meal times but helpless to change their habits. Regardless of the symptoms and consequences, never forget that recovery is reachable for all who seek it.


Buro PUUR (2020). “Over Eetstoornissen.” Buro Puur. At,proce%20dat%20begint%20met%20lijnen.

Gaudiani, J.L. (2015). “Why Feeling Cold Can Be a Dangerous Sign in Anorexia Nervosa.” Gaudiani Clinic. At

Jongejan, J. (2017). Niet Wat Jij Denkt: Hoe Bloggen En Youtube Mijn Leven Met Anorexia Veranderden. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Luitingh-Sijthoff, 2017. 

Healthtalk (2018). “Eating Disorders: Social life and public places.” Healthtalk. At

Livingston, D. and L. Sammons (2006). “The Effects of Eating Disorders on Student Academic Achievement and the School Counselor’s Role.” Perspectives in Learning 7(1): 35–37. 

Mehler, P.S. and C. Brown (2015). “Anorexia Nervosa – Medical Complications.” Journal       of Eating Disorders 3(1):  3-11.

Office on Women’s Health (2018). “Anorexia Nervosa.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office on Women’s Health. At

Office on Women’s Health (2005). BodyWise Handbook: Eating Disorders Information for Middle School Personnel. Washington, DC: 2005.

Oliver-Pyatt Center (2020). “Five Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa You Need to Pay Attention To.” Oliver-Pyatt Centers. At

Schieving, J.H. (2019). “Anorexia Nervosa.” At

How do Eating Disorders Affect Someone’s Education?

You May Also Like