How to Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder

Two Parts:Talking to Your Friend about the Eating DisorderSeeking Professional Help

It can be challenging to be helpful to a friend who is struggling with an eating disorder, especially when you are concerned for her safety. Individuals with an eating disorder are often afraid to ask for help and have difficulty starting a conversation about their disorder.[1] However, an eating disorder will only get worse if it is not addressed and treated. You can help a friend with an eating disorder trying to talk to her about her eating disorder in a supportive way. If you feel your friend’s eating disorder is not getting better, you should seek professional help for your friend so she can get the professional support and guidance she needs.

Part 1
Talking to Your Friend about the Eating Disorder

  1. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 1
    Set aside time to talk one on one. Make sure you talk to your friend privately in a space where she feels comfortable, such as your home or her home. Pick a spot where there will be no distractions or interruptions.[2]
    • Having a one on one conversation will also prevent other people from entering the conversation and firing accusations or opinions at your friend. Avoid sitting down with a group of people and your friend, as this can feel like an aggressive environment or an attack on your friend, rather than a supportive conversation.
  2. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 2
    Share specific moments where you were concerned about your friend’s disorder. Open the conversation by talking about specific moments where you concerned about your friend’s health due to her eating disorder. Avoid blanket statements like, “You have a problem” or “You have an eating disorder”. Instead, use specific instances where you experienced the negative effects of your friend’s disorder.[3]
    • For example, you may discuss when you and your friend went to a casual get together at a friend’s house last week. Using “I” statements, you may say: “I noticed that you ate a huge amount of food very quickly and then excused yourself from the table. From the bathroom, your other friends and I could hear you throwing up your food. This instance made me very concerned about you and your health. I am worried about you and want you to know how much I care about your well-being”.
  3. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 3
    Use “I” statements. When you speak to your friend, you should always use “I” statements, as this will prevent your wording and tone from becoming accusatory or judgemental. Avoid statements like, “You seem sick” or “you should just eat”. Instead, always express how you are feeling in relation to your friend’s disorder and how you feel her disorder is negatively effecting her health.[4]
    • For example, you may bring up the fact that is it difficult to go to restaurants with your friend, as she either does not eat anything or she binge eats. You may say, “It’s difficult for me to go to restaurants with you because I will order a meal and you will not eat anything the entire night.”
  4. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 4
    Avoid passing judgement or shaming your friend. It can be a hard line to walk, especially when you want to be supportive of your friend, but also snap them out of their disorder. However, eating disorders are a mental illness that requires support and understanding, not judgement or shaming. Often, eating disorders are tied to other trauma or other mental issues and will not be easily solved by just eating food.[5]
    • Though it may be tempting to tell your friend, “If you would just eat, you would be fine!” or “Wow, I can’t believe you think you are fat”, it’s important to you try not to shame your friend into eat or bully her into eating. Remember that her disorder is a daily struggle and not a lighthearted issue.
    • Your friend may also be suffering from body dysmorphia, a common disorder tied to eating disorders where she cannot see her actual size, so she may feel heavier than she actually is. These elements can all create a skewed perception of her weight, and these perceptions are not just going to go away if you tell her to “just eat”.
  5. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 5
    Do not comment on how your friend looks or her physical appearance. Avoid making comments about her weight or her looks, such as, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder” or “You look like you’ve lost weight.” These comments will only reinforce your friend’s obsession with her body and her looks, leading her to focus even more on her eating disorder.[6]
    • Rather than tell your friend she is “not fat” or “does not have an eating disorder”, you can ask her to consider why she has a fear of being fat and what she thinks she can achieve by becoming thin. This will give her a chance to express her feelings and thoughts around her eating disorder, rather than feel shameful or embarrassed about it.
  6. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 6
    Practice active listening. Support your friend by actively listening to her thoughts and feelings around her eating disorder. This means sitting quietly and listening to your friend as she speaks, making eye contact and nodding your head or smiling to assure her that you are listening.[7]
    • Once she has finished speaking, you should try to reflect her words back to her using your own words. Start by saying, “What I am hearing you say is…” or “I think what you meant was…”. For example, you may respond with, “What I am hearing you say is that your eating disorder is a way for you to feel in control.”
    • Allow your friend to agree with your response and confirm that you listened to her properly. Once she confirms you have listened properly to what she has to say, you can offer advice or support.
  7. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 7
    Assure her of your support and your concern about her health. You should end the conversation by reinforcing your support and concern for your friend’s health. Make sure your friend knows that you care for her and do not want to see her health get worse due to her eating disorder.[8]
    • You can also end the conversation by gently suggesting that your friend get professional help for her disorder. Eating disorders will only get worse if they are not treated, so suggesting treatment is a useful way to try to help your friend deal with her eating disorder.
  8. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 8
    Encourage her to seek treatment, even if she denies she has a problem. It can be difficult for individuals with an eating disorder to admit that they have a problem and need help. If your friend does not want to admit she has a problem, avoid getting upset at her or trying to force her to face her eating disorder. Instead, present several treatment options that she can try and encourage her to start with a support group or one session with a therapist. Ease her into treatment and work with her to try to get her to open up about her disorder. It may take time for her to admit to herself and to others that she has an eating problem.

Part 2
Seeking Professional Help

  1. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 9
    Get your friend’s family involved in the treatment process. If your friend’s eating disorder continues to get worse, you may want to consider reaching out to your friend’s family. You should first ask your friend if she would consider telling her family about her eating disorder, if they do not know about it already. Do not go behind your friend’s back and tell her family yourself without her permission or without her awareness.[9]
    • Getting your friend’s family involved should only be done if your friend’s health is seriously declining due to her disorder and she refuses to seek treatment. A more rigorous treatment plan, with a stay in a hospital or a rehab center may be required if her eating disorder becomes life threatening or very severe.
  2. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 10
    Develop a support plan with other friends and your friend’s family. Reach out to your friend’s family and other friends to talk about ways that you support your friend with the eating disorder. Sit down with them and create a support plan, noting signs that your friend’s disorder is getting worse or getting out of control. Agree to take measures as a group, whether it is spending one on one time with the friend when they are having difficulties, or encouraging the friend to seek treatment if their symptoms become more severe.
    • You may want to include a list of support groups and professional therapists that anyone involved in the support plan can call if your friend begins to get worse.
  3. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 11
    Offer to make an appointment with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. Treatment for eating disorders is recommended based on the individual’s symptoms and the severity of their disorder. But, treatment often involves therapy sessions with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. You can offer to make an appointment for your friend and/or accompany her on her first appointment as a show of support.[10]
    • Therapy can also be done in a group setting, where your friend can improve her self-esteem, understand her emotional triggers, and learn to respond to stress and emotional pain in healthy ways around others who are dealing with the same issues.
  4. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 12
    Suggest an eating disorder support group in your friend’s area. Support groups are also good ways to ease into treatment, especially if your friend is uncomfortable with therapy sessions. Look for an eating disorder support group in your friend’s area that is easy to get to and offer to take her to a group meeting.[11]
    • Support groups are often run by peers, rather than professionals, making them less intimidating. It can also be encouraging to learn about coping mechanisms and ways to view food in a healthy way from individuals who are struggling with the same issues.
  5. Image titled Help a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder Step 13
    Encourage your friend to check into a treatment center if her eating disorder becomes severe or an emergency. Eating disorders that go untreated will only become more severe and could be life threatening. If your friend appears to be very thin and has very low energy or if her purging habits appear out of control, you may want to encourage her to check into a treatment center. You may also want to get her family involved and other close friends so you can all work together to get her to check into a treatment facility, where she can get the help she needs.

Article Info

Categories: Supporting Friends | Eating Disorders