What to Do — And What Not to Do — If You Think Your Friend Has an Eating Disorder

Smash that scale with love. Credit: NEDA

Smash that scale with love. Credit: NEDA

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so we wanted to address a serious problem that we know a lot of you have faced: what do you do when you think your friend has an eating disorder? Do you confront them? Get them help? Hope they come out of it themselves?

We don’t get all that serious in these parts very often, but this is a really important topic. And as a friend, you can really help to possibly even save the life of your friend. Eating disorders are serious business, and it’s estimated that 30 million people in the U.S. will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. A popular misconception about eating disorders is that if someone has one, it will be obvious by his or her low weight and starvation habits, but eating disorders run the gamut of behaviors, ages, races, weights and sizes. So if you have a friend who is exhibiting some of the signs of having an eating disorder, here are the dos and don’ts and how you can best help from the National Eating Disorders Association.

Is It an Eating Disorder?

  • Makes frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicate that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or lots of wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food
  • Evidence of purging behavior, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics
  • Develops food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group, excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch, etc.)
  • Skips meals or takes small portions of food at regular meals
  • Hides body with baggy clothes
  • Maintains excessive, rigid exercise regimen — despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury — because of the need to “burn off” calories
  • Drinks excessive amounts of water and/or uses excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints and gum

How Can I Help?

When initiating a conversation with someone who may have an eating disorder, it is important to remain supportive, non-judgmental and let them know that they are not alone.

Dos

  • Learn the difference between facts and myths about weight, nutrition and exercise
  • Ask what you can do to help
  • Listen openly and reflectively; be patient and non-judgmental
  • Talk with the person in a kind way, when you are not angry, frustrated or upset
  • Explain the reasons for our concerns, without mentioning specific eating behavior
  • Ask if he/she is willing to explore these concerns with a healthcare professional who understands eating disorders
  • Remind your loved one that many people have successfully recovered from an eating disorder

Don’ts

  • Invade privacy and contact the patient’s doctors, friends or others to check up behind his/her back
  • Demand weight changes (even if clinically necessary for health)
  • Insist the person eat every type of food at the table
  • Make eating, food, clothes or appearance the focus of conversation
  • Offer more help than you are qualified to give

For more resources, go to the NEDA’s website. It’s full of good info. Now tell us: Have you ever been put in this really tough spot? —Jenn



Comments

  1. Andry says

    Very useful tips. Most of us are guilty at not being considering enough when trying to help our loved once. Your tips might help handle the situation in a better way. Thanks!

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