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Eating Disorder Awareness week 2021: It’s time to shine a light on binge eating at university

Over 1 in 50 people in the UK are affected by binge eating in their lifetime, but it is often not taken as seriously as other eating disorders due to weight stigmas and common misconceptions about how dangerous it really is.

By Meghan Bryant, MA History and Philosophy of Science

It is thought that roughly one quarter of university students experience mental illness and psychological distress in some form.  In particular, students are considered to be distinctly vulnerable to developing eating disorders: a broad category of psychological illnesses generally defined by disordered or obsessive eating patterns and over-exercising.

Unfortunately, university settings could present the optimal conditions for disordered eating patterns to take hold.  The process of moving away from home constitutes a massive shift in an individual’s routine.  Subsequently, students at university often adopt irregular eating, drinking and sleeping habits.

In addition, students are exposed to an over-emphasis on body image and are arguably more aware of societal beauty standards during this period.   For instance, it has been found that female university students have a particularly narrow range of what is considered to be the ‘ideal’ body shape, and consequently are likely to feel dissatisfied with their weight.

The heightened intensity of academic work at university could also serve to increase students’ risk of developing psychological difficulties.   The competitive atmosphere that often comes hand-in-hand with higher education fosters a culture of perfectionism.  Any deviation from such unattainable standards may result in feelings of inadequacy and helplessness.

All of the above difficulties associated with student life are considered to have a potential causal role in the development of various eating disorders. As such, high prevalence rates of eating disorders at university are to be expected.

Such disorders are associated with some of the most detrimental consequences. For instance, anorexia nervosa holds the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, and bulimia is associated with severe medical complications.   As such, tackling the root causes of disordered eating is an incredibly pressing issue.

Fortunately, University settings also present a unique opportunity to prevent the onset of eating disorders.  For instance, it has been found that on campus eating disorder prevention tactics can have significant positive effects on eating disorder symptoms and risk factors.

One of the most important concepts in eating disorder prevention is the notion of awareness.  Raising awareness of various eating disorders, their specific symptoms and helpful coping techniques aid in preventing the circulation of myths which result in stigmatising attitudes and assist in developing a supportive atmosphere for affected individuals.

However, not all eating disorders have received equal amounts of attention.  For instance, most people are aware of the difficulties associated with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia, and as such, have a basic understanding of how to best support effected peers.

Contrastingly, disorders associated with binge eating have received little attention.  As a result, myths and stigma concerning effected individuals are more prevalent. Bingeing is often associated with over-indulgence and even laziness.  However, binge eating disorder is a serious psychological issue and is more prevalent than anorexia and bulimia combined.

‘For EDAW this year, it’s time to shine a spotlight on binge eating disorder.’

Whilst there are many misconceptions about binge eating disorder, weight stigma is particularly harmful. It is often assumed that individuals who aren’t underweight aren’t ‘sick enough’ to require treatment for disordered eating. As a result of this weight-stigma, many individuals are hesitant to come forward and accept treatment, despite the severity of the disorder.

In an attempt to tackle this disparity in awareness and understanding, the eating disorder charity Beat has chosen binge eating disorder as this year’s theme for Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Specifically, Beat emphasise the distress associated with bingeing, the variety in how such a disorder may present and the overwhelming feelings of anxiety experienced by affected individuals in order to tackle stigma.  The signs and symptoms of binge eating are also highlighted by the campaign, with the goal that affected individuals receive adequate understanding from their peers.

Our societal rejection of weight gain clearly plays into the development and maintenance of many types of disordered eating.  Though, this is most clear for the case of binge eating disorders.

Itinerary of events for EDAW in Bristol, 1-7 March 2021. | Epigram / Beat This Together

Toni Freedman, President of Beat This Together – the University of Bristol branch of Beat – commented, ‘For EDAW this year, it’s time to shine a spotlight on binge eating disorder.

‘It will affect more than 1 in 50 of us in our lifetime, is the most common eating disorder and yet remains relatively misunderstood and hidden in the shadows. The shame, stigma and fear that so often surrounds it leaves many fighting the battle alone, too scared to reach out for help. This year we will be running an event every day (1st - 7th March) aiming to support the mental wellbeing of individuals, educate students and staff, and empower people to connect with others and feel less lonely in their journey.

‘Our events range from yoga classes to life drawing, creative events to educational ones, and a whole host of activities in between! All events are being run online and for free so anyone can join us!’

In order to fully tackle the root causes of eating disorders and ensure UK campuses are conducive to developing healthier mindsets, a less stigmatic understanding of being eating disorder is imperative.

To find out more follow Beat This Together on Instagram @bristolbeatseatingdisorders or check out their Facebook page Beat This Together
Donate to Beat at this link:

Featured Image: Epigram / Alice Proctor