If a friend has stopped eating in front of you, if she’s losing weight rapidly, if she’s getting defensive when you ask her if she’s hungry, if she’s making mysterious trips to the bathroom after meals, you may be right to think she has an eating disorder. As a friend, you are in a delicate position because someone with an eating disorder might pull away from you if you bring it up. So, how can you make sure your friend gets the help she needs while also keeping your relationship intact? Here are some tips:
1. Let your friend know you’re there for support. If you feel comfortable, you can tell your friend outright that you are worried, and then you can have a discussion about it. If you sense that your friend has a problem, but you don’t feel comfortable talking directly to her about it, you can simply let her know that you are there to talk if there is anything bothering her.
2. Ask for help from a teacher, counselor, or parent. If a friend needs help, you shouldn’t be the only one offering it. By banding together with others (especially with adults who know what they’re talking about), you can do a better job of helping your friend. Counselors can give you tips on what you can do, and they can be particularly helpful if they know both of you. Parents can be a good source of ideas on how to help. If they know your friend’s parents, you might feel comfortable having them call your friend’s parents. *Note of caution, you may not want your friend to know right away or at all that you have gone to an adult for advice and help. Before you tell your parent or counselor all of the details, ask them to protect your identity.
3. Be careful about telling other friends. You may feel like you want to go to other friends to help out when someone is in need. Eating disorders are sensitive topics and school friend groups can generate rumors faster than a break between classes. While you might be able to handle a friend’s health issue with sensitivity, not everyone will be able to. So, be careful which other friends you tell about the situation
4. Ask how you can help. If a friend comes clean with you about having an eating disorder, ask how you can best support her. Asking this question is a simple way to show your support. Your friend will know that you are not going to desert her because of what she is going through.
5. Avoid talking about weight and body image issues. Low self-esteem stemming from a girl’s body image can lead to an eating disorder. Your friend might be extra sensitive to discussions about weight and beauty, so focus on other topics like weekend plans, interesting articles you’ve read, and fun memories.
6. Don’t turn into the food police. Don’t take your friend’s eating issue on as your responsibility. You could come across as annoying or bossy which is never good for a friendship. Also, with hope, your friend will connect with people like doctors, nutritionists, and counselors who can give her advice on how to manage her eating habits.
7. Know that you are doing enough. At times, you might feel helpless, like nothing you are doing is actually helping. Eating disorders take time to heal and they take many caring people to get involved. Do what you can to support your friend, but know that just being there is enough.
8. Get support for yourself. Helping a friend through a difficult time can also be emotionally difficult for you. So, make sure there is someone you can talk to if you start to feel overwhelmed by or down about your friend’s struggles.
Just reading this article, and thinking about getting your friend help is a step in the right direction.
8. Reviewed by: Dr. Amy