Dealing with disordered eating or negative body image at university

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. According to Beat Eating Disorders, 1.25 million people in the UK are living with an eating disorder right now, and this issue will be close to the heart of many students.

Like many other students, I struggled with negative body image after beginning university. The pressure of work and social life distracted me from self-care, and the constant access to social media led me to compare myself to other people’s bodies which led me to set completely unrealistic goals for myself.

Eating disorders can take many forms

Eating disorders are mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour. Disordered eating behaviour can range from limiting the amount of food you eat, eating large amounts of food, getting rid of food in a harmful way or can include all three of these types of behaviours. Some of the most well-known eating disorders in include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

There is also a branch of eating disorders known as “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders” (OSFED). A person may be diagnosed with OSFED when their symptoms do not fit within the diagnostic criteria set for the main eating disorders. An example of OSFED is atypical anorexia when a person has the symptoms of anorexia but their weight remains within a “normal” range.

OSFED are prime examples of not knowing if someone close to to you is suffering from an eating disorder or negative body image issues. The signs of OSFED include low confidence, poor body image, social withdrawal and tiredness.

Negative body image

Body image is how a person thinks and feels about themselves physically and how a person may believe other people see them.

Negative body image is becoming all too common nowadays and with the rise of social media is it even easier to compare your body to other people. Another catalyst for negative body image issues to arise is a major life event paired with the raging hormones present during puberty.

In recent years body-positive social media accounts have been rapidly gaining traction, and celebrities have also embraced the movement, to help those with negative body image. For example, Ashley Graham is a well-known model who encourages young people to love their bodies. She has campaigned for models of all sizes to be included in major runway shows and continues to push the boundaries within show business.

Seeking help

If you find yourself falling into unhealthy habits and worrying about your weight or the way you look there are many people you can talk to. The NHS advises booking an appointment with your GP as soon as possible if you think you might have an eating disorder, or if you’re not sure.

If you think someone close to you is going through these issues, it can be difficult to know what to do. Encourage them to seek help: You may want to support them by going to the GP with them. Remember that the person may get angry or defensive, this is a natural reaction and they may not realise they are ill.

You also may want to educate yourself a bit more on eating disorders and body image, you can find more information from the NHS and from Beat Eating Disorders. This topic should be dealt with sensitively so you may want to find a safe place where you can talk to the person.

If you or someone close to you is going through these issues or similar do not hesitate to contact your GP, or for further information and help you can visit Beat Eating Disorders, Mind, and The NHS website. If you want to talk to someone confidentially you can call the Beat Eating Disorders helpline, they also have web chats and online support groups, and can help you find therapists, private clinics and support groups.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

‘I feel like I’m being crushed’: What it’s like living with chronic fatigue

I’ve had an eating disorder, and food exercise labels are the dumbest idea

‘White counsellors don’t understand’: Why BME students don’t get the help they need at uni