How To Help A Friend
Are you worried about a friend who you think might have an eating disorder, but not sure where to start? It can be uncomfortable and difficult to talk to a friend about their eating habits: keep reading for more information on how to help a friend.
Recognize the Warning Signs
Eating disorders can affect a diverse group of people, including both women and men, people of color, athletes, and people who appear to be a normal weight or overweight. Before making assumptions, look for the following warning signs in a friend:
- Dramatic weight loss in a short period
- Intense or irrational fear of body fat or weight gain
- A long history of dieting
- Self-worth is based on body weight or image
- Personality traits such as perfectionism, low-self esteem, withdrawal, irritability, anxiety, or addiction
- Frequent skipping of meals, with excuses for not eating
- Avoidance of social gatherings where food is involved or isolating themselves at meal time
- Secrecy around eating
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after meals
- Daily (or more) weighing of self
- Excessive exercise outside of normal practice and conditioning
Talking to a Friend
Once you feel ready to talk to your friend, create a setting that is non-judgmental and informal. Remember to ask-not assume-during this conversation, because it's just that: a conversation, not a confrontation. Some steps you can take include:
- Choose a quiet and confidential location to have a conversation
- Focus on your concerns about your friend's health and your relationship with them, not on weight or appearance
- Start the conversation with an "I" statement. Try, "I've been worried about you" instead of "You don't seem to be eating enough" to minimize putting a person on the defense.
- Ask questions, and listen: Find out what is going on in their lives, be open, and let them know you will not pass judgement.
- Recognize that you may be rejected at first; if your friend is not ready to talk, end the conversation on amicable terms and let them know you're available when they feel ready to talk.
Other Ways to Help
If a friend discloses their eating disorder to you, there are plenty of ways to help and be there as a friend:
- Offer resources! Counseling and nutrition services are both available on campus. If a friends is hesitant about scheduling an appointment, offer to go with them to a counseling or nutrition appointment to ease their anxiety.
- Ask them what you can do to make dealing with food easier.
- Be aware of how you talk about other people's bodies-even accidental comments can be unintentionally hurtful.
- Do not pressure your friend to eat if they do not want to.
- Sit with your friend after a meal to help them feel calm and distract them from their anxiety.
- Discuss your concerns with a professional on campus-counselors are available by phone to help you figure out what to do next.
- Remember-you are not a professional, but you can provide an ear for listening and support.