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Eating Disorders: The behaviours and symptoms to look out for as a fresher


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There are lots of new responsibilities thrown at you during freshers. It’s your first time living alone, first time away from your family, without the company of friends or even acquaintances you’ve known longer than a week. You decide your own bedtime, set your morning alarms and choose what cereal you buy. You decide whether lectures are worth going to, when your bedsheets are dirty enough to constitute washing and whether you eat dinner at the table or in your room. There’s no nagging, no chores, and no-one to tuck you in at night.

It’s not surprising that mental stability during this time has the tendency to wobble, even for those without a history of mental health conditions. I mean, being abducted by aliens and forced to integrate into a Martian society would probably be a similar emotional roller-coaster…

One particularly dangerous, alarmingly common and grievously overlooked set of conditions come under the vast umbrella known as Eating Disorders. There are many different types of eating disorder and, contrary to public belief, often have no original basis in a desire to lose weight. Many sufferers may even reach a critical condition of ill-health before being diagnosed or even considering that they might have a problem. Below I have catalogued some of the most common types of eating disorders, along with their commonly associated behaviors, symptoms and means of seeking help.

Binge Eating disorder

Signature Behaviors: Secretive eating, eating away from others or taking measures to conceal the amount of food they consume from others.

Food being used as an excessive means of comfort, companionship, retaining boredom, feeding depression or procrastination. In other words eating even when you are not hungry, and often continuing to binge past the point of being uncomfortably full.

Physical Symptoms: Significant weight gain in a short period of time.

Getting Help: Constructing a structured meal-plan and identifying set times and location for meals can significantly reduce the risks of binging. It pays to seek help from your GP; a referral to a dietitian can be helpful in structuring a routine eating schedule specifically suited to your dietary requirements. In terms of self-help, free apps such as Lifesum can be similarly used to track your calorie intake and assist in normalizing your eating patterns by indicating recommended portion sizes throughout the day.


Bulimia Nervosa

This is often a dangerous progression for individuals originally suffering from an undiagnosed binge eating disorder. Outcomes of this condition can be life-threatening in long-term sufferers.

Signature Behaviors: Secretive eating and binging past the point of comfort are both likewise associated with Bulimia, as they are with binge eating disorders. The significant difference with Bulimia sufferers is that the guilt and discomfort following the binge lead to the overwhelming, and often uncontrollable, impulse to purge. In addition then to those behaviors associated with binge eating disorder, signs often include a high consumption of liquids before and throughout mealtimes, consistently retiring to the bathroom soon after or during mealtimes and eating the majority of their daily calorie intake late at night.

Physical Symptoms: Unfortunately Bulimia is a lot less noticeable than a binge eating disorder because the sufferer doesn’t necessarily appear to gain (or lose) any weight. Physical symptoms do however include scarring of the hands, sensitive teeth caused by acid erosion, dehydration, chest pains caused by acid reflux and hormonal imbalance (which in female cases can disrupt menstruation patterns). .

Getting Help: Make an appointment with your GP; Bulimia Nervosa can have some very serious long-term effects on your health including kidney failure and heart conditions. Ask your GP about dietitian referrals as well as local mental health services in your area. In terms of self-help, possibly the best program currently available is The Bulimia Health Method which can be accessed online or purchased in book form.


Anorexia Nervosa

Another life-threatening condition, though often (but not always) easier to spot than Bulimia Nervosa. Anorexia is a tricky topic because many people falsely attribute the term Anorexia to individuals with petite bone structure. Anorexia Nervosa is a term clinically given to those maintaining a BMI below 18, and (in females) the lack of a complete menstrual cycle for three or more consecutive months.

Signature Behaviors: There are many subtypes of Anorexia each with their own set of associated behaviors. Some of these subtypes include: binge-purge subtype which sees many of those behaviors linked with Bulimia; Athletica subtype where the sufferer exercises excessively as a means of maintaining a calorie deficit; and Restrictive Anorexia which sees the individual obsessively restricting their calorie intake.

Physical Symptoms: Significant weight loss, thinning hair, weak/flaking nails, pale complexion, anemia, fatigue, head rushes, insomnia, paranoia around food as well as a susceptibility to panic/anxiety attacks.

Getting Help: Again, this is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition and will therefore require that you seek professional help from your GP. I would not recommend any means of self-help for someone suffering from Anorexia Nervosa without also receiving medical and psychiatric support.


Eating disorders are frequently misunderstood. An eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice but a medical condition which can be scientifically explained and diagnosed. Eating disorders are also treatable. Do not suffer in silence.

Beat is the U.K’s primary Mental Health charity dedicated to support and raise awareness for those suffering with eating disorders. For more information or for further advice on seeking help visit their website at 

Read more advice from beat here

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