How to Help a Friend

Who May Be Struggling With an Eating Disorder

It can sometimes be difficult to approach a friend when you are concerned about them. These are some ideas that you might find helpful.

First, prepare yourself for the possibility that you will be met with resistance, defensiveness, and minimization of the problem. Remember, this is not personal; these are all symptoms of the disease. Do not be scared by denial or hostility and do not be fooled by reassurances.


The Do’s

  1. Set aside a time for a private meeting with your friend. Do not make it a public forum where several friends attack the friend you are concerned about.
  2. Communicate your concerns in a calm and caring way.
  3. Give specific examples to back up your concern. Note if you’re worried by extreme weight loss, ritualistic eating behaviors, moodiness, irritability, or withdrawal
  4. Use ‘I’ statements such as “I’m concerned” or “I’m scared by your behavior…”

    Suggest your friend seek help from a counselor, physician or nutritionist. Ideally, treatment will involve these three areas. Know the appropriate referral sources.

  5. Encourage your friend to tell significant others in her life so they can support in her recovery.
  6. Remember to separate upsetting behavior indicative of an eating disorder from the person your friend is. Try to appreciate your friend for who he or she is.


The Don’t’s

  1. Don’t tell a parent or counselor without first speaking with your friend.
  2. Don’t threaten or challenge your friend. Avoid making accusatory ‘you’ statements such as “You just need to eat” or “You’re acting crazy.”
  3. Do not make promises you can’t keep such as “I promise not to tell anyone” or “If you don’t stop, I’ll never talk to you again.”
  4. Do not get into a battle of wills. If your friend refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem calmly restate your concern and leave yourself open as an available listener.


Taking Care of Yourself

  1. Remember that despite her resistance, underneath your friend is thankful.
  2. Remember that you cannot force someone to seek help or change her habits. You, honestly sharing your concerns, provide important progress.
  3. Maintain firm boundaries between yourself and a friend suffering from an eating disorder. Communicate that you are available to help but that it is not your job to monitor another individual’s behavior.
  4. Do not let her monopolize your time and energy.
  5. Find support for yourself if you feel overwhelmed.
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