How To Help A Friend

Eating Disorders

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.