Eating Disorders

Image of female student walking

Food plays an important part in everyone’s lives, but for some people it can become a source of worry, anxiety, shame or embarrassment. Obsessive thoughts, behaviours or actions around food or body image are all symptoms of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders affect men as well as women.

If you think you might have an eating disorder

It can be really difficult for people with eating disorders to get better on their own: eating disorders are often very isolating and sufferers may feel that their disorder needs to be kept a secret.

The most important step is to tell someone: anyone you can trust and feel comfortable talking to. This could be:

  • friends
  • family
  • your GP
  • your personal tutor
  • a counsellor
  • a Just Ask adviser

There are lots of ways to get help:

If you think someone you know might have an eating disorder

It’s important to remember that you’re not a professional, but there are things that you can do to help:

  • tell them about what you’ve noticed, your suspicions, and how that makes you feel
  • be prepared for your friend to deny that anything is wrong
  • be supportive and encourage your friend to seek professional help (such as going to their GP or going to see a counsellor)
  • try to keep your friendship as ‘normal’ as possible – try not to let issues with food and eating dominate your friendship
  • listen to your friend and encourage them to talk about their feelings

If you’re worried about a friend’s eating or their relationship with food generally, it can feel overwhelming. It’s important to support your friend, but don’t take on more than you feel you can handle.

There are some key points to remember:

  • if your friend chooses not to seek help, that’s their responsibility – not yours
  • everyone has their limits – it’s ok if you feel like you can’t give any more time, knowledge or understanding to your friend
  • your friend’s problems should not take over your life, or interfere with your studies
  • take time for yourself, and don’t forget that you can get professional support for yourself – you can speak to a counsellor, your GP or a Just Ask Adviser if things are getting on top of you.

Student Minds is a national charity focusing, amongst other issues, on supporting students with eating disorders. They have a really useful guide to supporting friends here.