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Beat at Nottingham University: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Beat is a national charity dedicated to raising awareness of eating disorders and providing support for the 1.6 million people in the UK who suffer from an eating disorder. The charity celebrates their 25th anniversary this year but even today they still have to work hard to eliminate the stigma and reduce the naivety and ignorance that are attached to eating disorders.

The work that Beat does at the University of Nottingham is incredibly important. For Caroline, a volunteer facilitator,  it provides an opportunity for her to help people in a way that she didn’t have access to when she was overcoming her own eating disorder. “I was lucky because I got really good treatment and my family were a great support, but it still went on for a really long time.”

The stigma attached to eating disorders comes from not knowing what they mean. “There are negative connotations associated with anorexia and bulimia because people think they’re a choice and something people can easily get rid of, when in fact they are serious mental health problems that are really dangerous”.

Anorexia is where someone restricts the amount of food and the different types of food and they may excessively exercise. Bulimia, like anorexia, is linked to low self esteem. People who suffer with bulimia are obsessed with calories and getting rid of the food they have eaten. Bulimics are difficult to diagnose because they usually remain an average body weight. Binge-eating Disorder is where someone eats a large amount of food in one sitting usually more quickly than usual and eat until they are uncomfortably full.  

There is another category of eating disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) that poses further problems. It involves a combination of symptoms associated with anorexia or bulimia and is therefore more difficult to treat and find the right kind of help for, because a sufferer cannot be categorised into a general group.

Caroline says that “unfortunately due to funding, people that don’t meet a certain criteria don’t get the help and support that they need. It is important that people in these situations get the help they need.” The negativity towards eating disorders makes it harder for people suffering with them to speak out and seek help because of the fear of how people will react and how people will treat them after. In these cases Beat provides a very important service.

We asked Caroline for some advice on how to approach your friends who have an eating disorder. For such a sensitive issue, here are some helpful hints when approaching your housemate or close friend:

  • The most important thing is to be there to listen

  • Don’t change how you interact with them

  • Know that it is a difficult issue for them to talk about too

  • Don’t try and pressure them into talking to you. Give them time

  • Take what they say at face value

  • Don’t question what they might be doing

  • You might think you’re being helpful with compliments like “You’re looking really well today” but that can be quite a difficult thing for someone with an eating disorder to hear

  • Make them aware of the kind of services that are out there

  • Remember that  each eating disorder is different for everyone

It is important that we are aware of eating disorders at university. Starting university marks a really difficult transition period and not just the jump from A Levels. Moving away from home and living apart from your parents can be challenging, especially if someone has had an eating disorder previously. There are a lot of social situations that involve food, especially in catered halls. Whilst some people relish the independence that university provides, it is quite a stressful environment. The university lifestyle puts pressure on people to act in a certain way and can lead to people developing an eating disorder at uni.

Beat provides support for students at the university and people in the local community. They run fortnightly self-help groups for anyone who is affected by an eating disorder. Caroline told us that there are plenty of friends and family attending these informal meetings. The sessions provide a chance for people to share experiences about things that have helped them to help them with their eating disorders.

Other support at the university comes from Nottinghamshire Eating Disorder Service. They run drop in sessions at Cripps Medical Centre on Wednesday mornings. From these one-to-one sessions people can be directed to more structured sessions and programmes on Wednesday afternoons.

For Eating Disorders Awareness week, Beat are running various events to raise awareness. On Monday there is a workshop for supporters where they will educate friends and family on the kind of things to say and what not to say. This followed by a talk on Tuesday for healthcare professionals and students with the aim to reducing stigma in healthcare, especially in hospitals where treatment can be quite insensitive. On Wednesday there will be a self help group.

Ongoing for the rest of the term is a ‘Love Your Body Art Project’. Beat invites you to submit a piece of art in any form that represents positive body image to you and later in the year these will be put together in an exhibition. Email your submission to [email protected] or drop them into the Student Volunteer Centre.



Edited by Sheetal Mistry

Hannah Rought is a third year English student at University of Nottingham. She is successfully (?) managing her studies and being Head of Social Media for Her Campus Nottingham. Expect her to tweet #thirdyearwoes a lot this year, she doesn't want to graduate and have to become a real life grown up! 
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