What do I do if I think my friend has an eating disorder?
So you think your friend might be dealing with an eating disorder...what are you supposed to do? You might worry that whatever you choose won’t be helpful or might even make things worse. We get it: Eating disorders can be a touchy subject. But what’s important is that you talk to your friend and show her that you're there for support.
This week (February 26-March 4) is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week so there's no better time to address whatever concerns you have about your friend's health and well-being. The tips below can help guide your conversation with your bestie so you can get her the help she needs (and deserves!).
Set a private place and time for discussion.
Show your friend that you respect and value her privacy by choosing an environment and time that will allow you to have the supportive talk you need to have. Don't bring a bunch of your other friends—that might make your friend feel like she's being attacked. Instead, have a one-on-one conversation in a quiet place when you have enough time to talk (aka not at your lockers in between class).
Communicate the concerns you have.
Share specific situations that made you feel concerned or worried. Explain what you think these things may mean. Since you’re not a doctor, don’t diagnose your friend with anything. Do let her know that her behavior might not be healthy though and encourage her to speak to a professional.
Avoid getting into a fight.
If your friend refuses to acknowledge a problem, let her know that you’re there for support whenever she needs to talk. Letting someone know he or she has a support system can be helpful even is he or she doesn’t want to use it right away.
Avoid blaming or simple solutions.
Saying things like “All you have to do is eat!” or “If you’d just stop making yourself throw up you’d be fine” is not helpful to someone with an eating disorder. Being supportive means understanding that people who have eating disorders do not choose to have them. Instead, NEDA suggests saying something like “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch” or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.” These phrases show concern but do not put blame on your friend.
Ask your friend to talk with a counselor, medical professional or trusted adult.
While you are a great support for your friend, you shouldn’t be the only in whom she confides. Having a trained professional or trusted adult as a support allows your friend to get the help she needs. You can even offer to go with your friend if you’re comfortable.
If you’re still concerned, talk to a trusted adult or medical professional yourself.
It’s difficult to know when to involve others in your friend’s struggle with an eating disorder, and you can feel like you’re breaking your friend’s trust when you do. Know that if you are worried about your friend after talking to her, speaking with an adult is the right thing to do for the mental and physical health of not only your her, but you too.
Have you ever worried that one of your friends had an eating disorder? What did you do? Let us know in the comments.