Background It is not uncommon that university students may exhibit disordered eating behaviours because of the various challenging factors in their age-group. Research points to the high prevalence of subclinical eating disorders (EDs) that do not require clinical attention among young adults. We aimed to conduct a qualitative study among university students with subclinical EDs to explore students’ attitudes and opinions about a potential mindfulness-based intervention.
Methods Six online focus groups and five interviews took place using Microsoft Teams among young adult students. Participants were recruited online through university mailing lists and were screened for subclinical EDs to ensure eligibility. Those requiring clinical attention were excluded. Discussions lasted 60–90 minutes and focused on reasons of disordered eating behaviours, acceptability of the proposed intervention themes and students suggestions and opinions about the intervention. The study was approved by Biomedical & Scientific Research Ethics Committee (BSREC) of the University of Warwick.
Results 23 participants from seven departments took part in the study, most of them were white females aged between 18 and 22. Results revealed the acceptability of mindfulness intervention as well as intuitive eating. Students’ main reasons for disordered eating were mental health challenges, especially stress; and social influences, especially social media. University lifestyle elements were believed to have minimal impact on the occurrence of ED behaviours. Students preferred the intervention to be with a group respecting confidentiality, focused on practicals, personalized where possible, encouraging participants to attend through providing effective solutions yielding a change in their eating behaviours or through the reassurance of being with a group of participants going through similar experiences.
Conclusion Mindfulness-based intervention might be applied among university students with subclinical EDs. Participants might prefer different kinds of mindfulness practices such as sitting meditations or moving meditations. Other approaches may need to be combined with mindfulness for those who believe this is needed, such cognitive behavioural therapy practices. Interventions might consider creating a reassuring and confidential space for participants through a group, grouping participants with similar behaviours together, creating a helpful environment to commit to the practices such as providing a specific form of practice and a progress checker. University-student participants with sub-clinical EDs might be knowledgeable about healthy eating and EDs and willing to improve their eating behaviours but do not know where/how to start.
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