Thinking your friend may have an eating disorder?
Here we’ll take a closer look at what an eating disorder is and how you can offer support to your friend
What is an eating disorder?
The term eating disorder is used to describe a group of illnesses where a person has a distorted view of body shape and weight and extreme disturbances in eating behavior. A few common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder.
Helping someone you think has an eating disorder
Helping someone who is not ready to change their behavior may be difficult and it is ultimately their decision to get help. If eating disorders go undetected or undiagnosed, they could become physically and emotionally damaging, and even life-threatening.
If you are worried about someone who may be struggling with an eating disorder, it may be a good idea to talk with the person you are concerned about. Letting them know that you are open to listening to them, without being judgmental, may help to make them more open to discussing what is going on. If you approach the person you are concerned about, it may be helpful to remember that you are talking to them as a friend and not a therapist. Some other things you may want to consider include:
Finding an appropriate time to talk. Timing can be an important part of talking to someone about sensitive issues. If possible, try to choose a time when you feel relaxed and your friend feels relaxed. Try to avoid talking with them during a time where they may be on the defensive or threatened. Otherwise, you may end up getting a bad reaction and creating distance between the two of you.
Be informed. It is a good idea to have general knowledge about some of the characteristics of eating disorders. By doing your research, you may be better equipped to understand the reasons for the reactions you may receive. For example, denial that they have an eating disorder and a belief that they are fat are two characteristics of eating disorders. Therefore, it is normal for those who are experiencing an eating disorder to become angry and not want to talk or listen to you. Being informed may help you to handle their reactions better. Knowing more about eating disorders may also insure that you are seeing the right ‘signs’ of an eating disorder before you talk to your friends. The related articles found at the bottom of this page are another way to get more information.
Offer your support. It can be scary when you realize you need help for an eating disorder. Knowing you have a friend you can trust can always be helpful. Let the person know that you are concerned about their health and when they are ready to get help, you can help them find someone to talk to. Also let them know that you could accompany them to discuss the situation with a counselor, psychologist or doctor.
Remember that your friend might be guarded or defensive when you first bring this up to them. It’s normal for people with eating disorders to have trouble admitting to others—and themselves—that they might have a problem.
If the problem persists even after your speak with your friend, you might want to consider talking about it with someone you trust like a family member, your friend’s family, a teacher or a counselor. You might feel anxious about telling others at first, but remember that you’re not betraying your friend’s trust—you’re only helping them. You can also call the Boys Town (for everyone) National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 or Lines for Life’s YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 to speak with someone who is available to listen to your concerns 24/7.
Information for this article was provided by:
Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com