Helping you get through tough times

Worried a friend has an eating disorder?

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Seeing someone you know experiencing an eating disorder can be really hard. Helping someone who is not ready to change their behaviour may be difficult and the decision for them to get help is ultimately theirs.

However, there are ways you can help support the person who has an eating disorder.

Talk to someone

If you’re worried about someone, you may want to speak with a person whom you trust about your concerns. This may be a family member, teacher, youth worker or a professional such as a counsellor or nutritionist.

Inform yourself

It’s a good idea to have a general knowledge of what eating disorders are and how they work. Remember, eating disorders are more than just trying to be thin. Read about the different types of eating disorders.

By learning more about the disorder and how it works, you can be better prepared to talk to your friend about it and understand what they’re going through. Doing this could help you understand the reasons for the reactions you may receive.

Denial and a belief that they are fat is one of the characteristics of eating disorders. It’s not uncommon, therefore, 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 deal better with their reactions.

Things to keep in mind…

  • Eating disorders are not primarily about food 
  • People can and do recover 
  • Eating disorders can affect anyone
  • Eating disorders are characterised by a variety of disordered eating behaviours such as: 
     – Self-starvation by fasting and/or food restriction 
     – Purging by self-induced vomiting, over-exercising, or laxative abuse
     – Bingeing by consuming quantities of food beyond what the body needs to satisfy hunger 

An eating disorder can be very destructive, both physically and emotionally, and people can get trapped into a destructive cycle without knowing how to cope with or break it. An eating disorder is not just about food and weight, but also about a person’s sense of who they are. 

Talk to them

Talk to your friend and let them know you are worried about them. Ask them what the experience is like for them. Sometimes, the person may not even be aware they have a problem and just think they are dieting. If you are concerned about their eating habits or use of laxatives, let them know!

When talking to them, make sure to focus on feelings, and don’t wander back to talking about food. Also, if they aren’t already in treatment, encourage them to seek help. It may be hard for them to seek help, or even admit they have a problem. Just remind them that you are there for them.

Remember you’re talking to them as their friend and not a therapist. They may come off as angry or defensive, but it’s not because they’re upset with you personally. They’re going through a hard time and may not know how to handle it. Check out tips for communicating effectively with a friend.

People can and do get better

Further information can be found in the books listed on the Bodywhys booklist and from other websites for eating disorders and related issues. See the bodywhys list of websites or contact the Bodywhys Helpline: Lo call 1890 200 444.

Acknowledgements

This factsheet has been produced in collaboration with Bodywhys (www.bodywhys.ie).

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This article was last reviewed on 24 April 2017

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