Dealing with Eating Disorders

It is extremely common for both men and women to be unhappy with their body size and image in some way. Many people will try and alter their physical appearance through diet and exercise at some point in their life.

At lot of the time, this is no cause for concern, however there are some eating and exercise patterns that can be damaging to your physical and emotional health. If you are concerned about your eating habits and think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important that you seek help as soon as you are able to.

What causes an eating disorder?

There are many different factors that can result in developing an eating disorder, including stress and the need to cope with difficult emotions or experiences. You can read about the common causes of eating disorders on the Students’ Union website

How do I know if I have an eating disorder? What are the symptoms?

There are different types of eating disorders, each with their own defining symptoms and characteristics. You may find that your thoughts, behaviour and feelings all fit into a single category, or you may find that you have a combination of symptoms from different categories. You can find information about different types of eating disorders on the Students’ Union website

The University Health Service also has some information about the symptoms of eating disorders on their webpages, as well as a short questionnaire which you can use to establish if your eating is disordered.

Who should I talk to about getting support?

The first thing you should do is make an appointment to see your GP, as they will be able to advise you on the best course of action for you. The University Health Service also runs an Eating Disorder Clinic, information about which can be found on their website.

The Students’ Union Biteback service is a confidential drop-in support service for any students concerned about eating behaviours or eating disorders. The sessions are run by SYEDA (South Yorkshire Eating Disorders Association), and take place at Sheffield Students' Union on a monthly basis. You can find more information on the Students’ Union website

Can I still study if I have been diagnosed with an eating disorder?

BMI (Body Mass Index) is used as a general guide to assess a student’s fitness to study if they are suffering with an eating disorder.

The University of Sheffield follows guidelines set out by The Higher Education Occupational Health Physicians/Practitioners (HEOPS):ide

….eating disorders have a profound impact on psychological, social and physical functioning. They can affect a student’s cognitive ability and their insight and motivation to receive treatment. In the absence of treatment they tend to run a chronic course with a progressively worsening prognosis. This can affect the student’s ability to achieve their academic potential and prevent them from benefiting from the broader aspects of university life. …

A small number of students have a particularly severe eating disorder, particularly those with AN. These students are very underweight, physically compromised and substantially impaired in their psychological and social functioning. Such a condition is associated with high mortality rates …. These students often minimise their problems or deny having an eating disorder and instead focus solely on their studies. They may continue to perform academically but at huge expense to their physical and psychological wellbeing.

If you have a BMI of 17 or above, you will usually be permitted to continue with your studies. Where a student is managing their illness and keeping their weight/ BMI at a non-dangerous level, reasonable adjustments (including attending the Eating Disorder Clinic [link:]) mean that they can continue to study with reduced risk of further damage to their health.

If you are a new or prospective student and have a BMI lower than 17, you will not normally be permitted to complete your registration with the University. You must make contact with the University Health Service in order to complete the registration process.

There are regulations that permit registration to be suspended in some circumstances. This is because a very low BMI is known to impair a student’s cognitive functioning and ability to study effectively. If your BMI is very low, your physical and psychological health can be permanently damaged. We also consider safety in the academic setting (eg. in labs) and the impact on other students and staff (such as serious stress and anxiety).

The guidelines are a little different if you have been studying for a while; please talk to a University Health Service GP.

Where can I get more information?

There is lots of information on coping with and beating eating disorders on both the SYEDA (South Yorkshire Eating Disorders Association) website and the NHS eating disorder webpages.

If the information you are looking for is not included in our web pages and you aren't sure who to approach, please come to SSiD and we will try to point you in the right direction.