What is FREED?

FREED is designed to give young people rapid access to specialised evidence-based treatment for eating disorders and support tailored to their needs.

An introduction to FREED

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About eating disorders

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that involve extreme concern about eating, weight or shape plus disordered eating. They are not a lifestyle choice or “phase”.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. One in seven women will experience an eating disorder over their lifetime. Peak onset is in adolescence and young adulthood, but eating disorders can develop before and after this too. They affect boys and girls, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and people of all cultures.


There are four main categories of eating disorder: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED). OSFED is no less serious than the other categories and just means that symptoms don’t exactly match those for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder.


Eating disorders aren’t all about food. People with eating disorders often feel a lot of pain, sadness and worry. The eating disorder can be a way to cope.

Eating disorders aren’t just about food

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‘Disordered eating’ can include limiting food intake, binge eating (eating a very large amount of food at once and feeling out of control of eating) and/or purging (making yourself sick or misusing laxatives). People may also exercise a lot, or exercise in rigid ways.


Some of the symptoms associated with eating disorders include:

  • Thinking about food all the time
  • Dieting
  • Missing meals
  • Eating alone
  • Counting calories
  • Worry around meal times
  • Guilt after eating
  • Worrying about losing control around food
  • Comfort eating
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent changes in weight
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Vomiting after eating
  • Signs of damage due to vomiting (like grazed knuckles)
  • Worries about body shape and weight
  • Frequent checking of your body shape or weight
  • Avoiding looking at your body
  • Comparing your body with others
  • Eating meals very slowly
  • Excessive exercise
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
  • Stealing food
  • Regularly asking for reassurance from others about food, body weight or shape
  • Avoiding lots of foods
  • Avoiding social situations

Usually at least a few of these symptoms are present in someone with an eating disorder.

“An eating disorder is never the solution to a person’s distress or difficulties. It is always the problem.”


Ulrike Schmidt, Psychiatrist and Professor of Eating Disorders


About early intervention

Early intervention means providing help and support as soon as possible when someone needs it. Research tells us that we should try and reach someone with an eating disorder within the first three years of the illness. People with eating disorders experience changes to their brain, body and behaviour. In early stages these changes are more easily reversed.

After three years, eating disorder symptoms tend to become “hard wired” in the brain. Symptoms can still be changed, but it gets harder to make changes and there may be long-lasting consequences.


There are two key things that stop early intervention for eating disorders: difficulties spotting the illness early, and difficulties getting help. FREED aims to address both sets of difficulties.

Phoebe received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

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Services using FREED aim to provide rapid, specialised, evidence-based treatment for young people with a recent onset eating disorder. This means that treatment is more likely to be effective and young people are less likely to miss out on study, relationships and other opportunities because of their illness.


FREED was developed for 16 to 25-year-olds with an eating disorder of up to 3 years duration. Eventually, we hope that everyone with an eating disorder will be able to access tailored, specialist treatment quickly. FREED is one step towards this goal.

“FREED has really saved my life. Early intervention is crucial and without this I probably would not be where I am now - I am sustaining a job, have moved out to a new home, and able to love myself. I still have eating issues and anxieties but I have come so far in my wellbeing and quality of life.”


FREED service user


How FREED works

FREED is First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders. It is a service model and care package for 16 to 25-year-olds who have had an eating disorder for three years or less.

FREED helps young people to access specialised evidence-based treatment quickly. The goal is for treatment to start within 4 weeks of referral to an eating disorder service.


FREED also attends to the specific needs of young people in the early stages of an eating disorder. It emphasises early, pro-active engagement; early symptom change; family involvement; attention to the effects of eating disorders on the brain; attention to social media use; and attention to transitions (out of school, to university, into work) and ‘emerging adulthood’.


FREED operates as a ‘service within a service’. It complements, rather than replaces, existing eating disorder services and treatments.

“Without FREED I am not sure I would be here today, getting early intervention was such a positive thing to happen to me when I was in a really dark place, and it gave me lots of hope for the future.”

FREED service user


The FREED service was developed and tested by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust’s Eating Disorders Unit and King’s College London. The initial trial took place across 2014-2015. Compared to treatment-as-usual, FREED reduced the amount of time an eating disorder was left untreated and improved treatment outcomes.


Key benefits included:

  • 32% reduction in the waiting time from referral to assessment
  • 41% reduction in the waiting time from assessment to treatment
  • 35% reduction in the need for day-patient or inpatient treatment
  • 59% of FREED patients with anorexia nervosa reached the healthy weight range by 12 months (vs. 17% of treatment-as-usual patients)
  • 70% of FREED patients had eating disorder symptom scores below clinical cut-points by 12 months

Introducing FREED did not result in non-FREED patients waiting longer for treatment.


FREED confirmed that treating people as early as possible leads to better results for eating disorder treatment.


In 2016, FREED was introduced to three new eating disorder services in the UK. In 2018, FREED is being introduced to eight new services. By 2020, we hope that at least 20 services will be using FREED. Work is also being done to establish FREED in Australia. Services that use FREED form part of the FREED Network.


We have an online training package and implementation toolkit for services interested in adopting FREED. This covers the why, what and how of delivering FREED and working effectively with young people and their families. There is currently no charge for this material but we ask that you register to access this part of the site.


We also have guides for healthcare professionals to use and guides and tools you can share with patients and carers. You don’t need to register to use these.


The FREED team

Karina Allen

Senior Clinical Psychologist and FREED Network Lead (Maudsley)

Amelia Austin

Research Assistant (Kings College London)

Amy Brown

Senior Clinical Psychologist and FREED Implementation Lead (Maudsley)

Danielle Glennon

Clinical Specialist Service Lead and FREED Service Lead (Maudsley)

Nina Grant

Clinical Psychologist and FREED Champion (Maudsley)

Vicki Mountford

Principal Clinical Psychologist and FREED Supervisor (Maudsley)

Ulrike Schmidt

Professor of Eating Disorders, Consultant Psychiatrist and FREED Evaluation Lead (Kings College London)

Mary Franklin-Smith

Dramatherapist and FREED Champion (Leeds)

William Rhys Jones

Consultant Psychiatrist & Clinical Lead (Leeds)

Monique Schelhase

Clinical Service Lead (Leeds)

Karen Williams

Clinical Nurse Specialist (Leeds)

Gabrielle Brady

FREED therapy lead (Vincent Square)

Alice Coddington

Consultant Psychiatrist (Vincent Square)

Frances Connan

Consultant Psychiatrist (Vincent Square)

Kudi Kali

Lead Nurse (Vincent Square)

Nicole Nunnes

Clinical Nurse Specialist and FREED Champion (Vincent Square)

Alison Hemphill

Clinical Pathway Lead (Birmingham)

Sheryllin McNeil

Psychological Therapies Lead and FREED lead (Birmingham)

Patricia Tulloch

Clinical Team Manager (Birmingham)

Sam Clark-Stone

Lead Clinician (Gloucestershire)

Sanni Norweg

Principal Clinical Psychologist (Bristol)

Rosie Oldham-Cooper

Clinical Psychologist and FREED Champion (Bristol)

More about FREED

Science & Research

FREED is much more effective than traditional treatments at reversing the changes to brain, body and behaviour caused by eating disorders.

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FREED Network

The FREED Network consists of all services using FREED, with access to evidence-based protocols and patient resources to support early intervention in eating disorders.

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Professional Resources

Access helpful guides for GPs and other health professionals (no registration required) or register for our online training platform if you are interested in using FREED in your service.

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Help & Support

The sooner you seek support, the sooner things can start to get better. We can help you find the right option for you.

Don’t want to use the tool? Download our guide to seeking help and support for more general information and advice.

Discover FREED

What is FREED?

Resources for Patients & Carers

Your Questions Answered


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What is FREED?

Science & Research Behind FREED

The FREED Network

Resources for Healthcare Professionals


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