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Here's how exams can affect people with an eating disorder

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Exam season can be a stressful time for most students, whether it is their first or final year. Added stress and pressure from dealing with an eating disorder can make a person's university experience even harder, but there is help out there for students to use.

Image credit: Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Being at university can make it harder

Eating disorders are a complex mental illness and can happen to anyone regardless of their age, gender or background. BEAT, the UK's leading charity supporting those with eating disorders states that it is estimated that around 11% of those affected by an eating disorder are male.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to spot the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, especially as a student at university. For many, starting university is a huge change, which may involve leaving home for the first time and taking part in brand new people and experiences. There is also the added pressure of new social, financial and academic challenges.

Dealing with university stress on top of an eating disorder can cause students to skip meals, eating more than usual to try to relieve stress, exercising a lot more, to forget to eat, isolate themselves or setting very high personal standards.

Managing stress during exams

We’ve computed some tips to consider during exams or other ‘tough’ times:

1. Speak up - if you are struggling, you may want to try and speak to someone like a friend, your GP or call a helpline such as BEAT’s Studentline. Many universities across the UK have amazing support services that can help students during difficult times in their student life. Whether it is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness, counselling; using support services while at university can be invaluable and life-changing.
The University of Sunderland, for example, offers an online free service called Silvercloud. It is an online CBT programme that can be tailored to your specific needs; it has a section for eating issues and can be found at silvercloudhealth.com 

2. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. Lecturers and university advisors are here to support you. They will be able to tell you whether you’re going in the right directions. Dr Alison Stenton, College Senior Tutor, King's College London explains on AdvanceHE that her role includes everything from “about assessment patterns, essay feedback and revision techniques” to “celebrating successes with some, and identifying urgent, specialist support for others”. Do not hesitate to reach out to them.

3. Take breaks and sleep – it’s important to focus on self-care at least once a week and to let your ‘brain breathe’ – and rest. Try and sleep eight hours per night, sleep will help you assimilate information better. George Turnbull, Ofqual's Exams Doctor, advises to “have a 10 minute break and then start again, gradually building up to 20 or 40 minute periods, whilst keeping breaks to 10 minutes, or less.” It should help you focus for longer periods of time.

4. Health over university - your health is the most important thing in this situation. You won’t be able to give exams your best if you’re not healthy. Your university can probably with deferral, extensions and other reasonable adjustments – which your tutor can help you requesting what you need.


The above content has been compiled from many specialist charities and trusted sources. We aren't offering medical advice or suggesting that eating healthily should replace medication or treatment programmes. 

If you are worried about a friend or are suffering from an eating disorder yourself, you can visit your local GP or contact the following for advice:

Beat - www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

BEAT have student and youth helplines and are open 365 days a year, 12pm - 8pm on a weekday and 4pm - 8pm on a weekend and during bank holidays. 

Mind - www.mind.org.uk

NHS - www.nhs.uk

For information on local services, visit Hub of Hope


Co-op wants to make your health choices easier

Whether that's through highlighting 'five a day' in their products or advice about a balanced diet and active lifestyle, Co-op wants to help you. Their wide variety of recipes, clear nutrition labels and seasonal campaigns help people to enjoy new foods, discover a love for old recipes and even help to cut down sugar and salt. Co-op aims to make healthy choices easy and delicious!

You can find out more about Co-op's health and wellbeing advice here: https://food.coop.co.uk/food-ethics/health-and-wellbeing/

Students get 10% off at Co-op with a Totum or NUS extra card. Find your local Co-op here.

For more inspiration from Co-op throughout the year follow @coopukfood

Lead image credit: Micaela Parente on Unsplash




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