I’ve become very concerned for my friend over the past few months, and even more so as recently I went through her notes on her phone when she let me borrow it to text my parents. First off, I’d noticed that she’d lost quite a bit of weight since winter break, at least 15-20 pounds off an already slender frame. It wasn’t just the weight, she hasn’t eaten lunch at school these past months either, and whenever we eat out somewhere on the weekends she hardly touches her plate even though she only orders a salad. Also, she always quickly types on her phone before eating — this is what compelled me to go on her notes, just to see if there was anything, and there was. She has a folder documenting her height and weights, morning and evening, with exact times, from the past 6 months; 5’4″ she started at 120lbs and is now down to 105lbs She also has weights labeled GW and UGW- 100 and 97, respectively. She has a folder in which she’s typed up rules for herself varying from “consume 200-800 calories daily” and “fast once a week”, to “exercise 30- 90 minutes 6X/week”. Also she has one labeled food journal but I didn’t get to look at it because I didn’t want to arouse suspicion for taking too long. Seeing this has shocked me, and since then I’ve been paying closer attention to her, and there’s something else that I find alarming, although I’m not sure what exactly it means. I glanced at her hands last week and saw that not only are her fingernails chewed, the skin around her cuticles and knuckles is torn up and bloodied in some areas. I’ve realized that she’ll pick at the skin and sometimes even bite it- the nails AND skin. I’ve never seen anything like this. I am fairly certain she has an eating disorder, but what is this other biting thing and why? It looks very painful. I feel like I need to tell someone about these things, like her parents or the nurse, but I don’t want to lose her as a friend, I love her and I don’t want her to hate me for betraying her trust, especially if she realizes I went through her phone. How can I help her without damaging our friendship? (age 18, from US)Friend with Possible Eating Disorder and Anxiety
Friend with Possible Eating Disorder and Anxiety
Your story reminds me of a friend of mine. She told me that she had developed anorexia while away at college and her roommate at the time became concerned and spoke to her own mother about it (who happened to be a nurse) and she then spoke to my friend’s parents. An intervention was put in place and my friend returned home from college, enrolling in the local university and beginning therapy. Yes, she was hurt and embarrassed about it all back then, but now as an adult, she speaks of the situation with gratitude, realizing that her friends’ concern most likely saved her life.
Based on what you have observed and shared here, I believe that your friend most likely does have a fairly severe eating disorder and she needs help. The skin picking and nail biting are also signs of psychological distress and can be treated. Your friend needs help but she may likely resist it and deny the problem. You can first try approaching her yourself and just lovingly share your concerns and ask if she would please make an appointment at the university counseling center. I don’t think you necessarily need to let her know what you saw in her phone, but you can share that you have observed her weight loss and behavior changes around eating. If this seems too intimidating to do alone, can you ask some other peers to join you? Otherwise, it may be time to speak to her parents or the nurse.
Even though I feel that you should take action to help your friend, you must be aware that she may reject your ideas and it could strain your friendship, but hopefully she will be able to see how much you care and ultimately come around. Doing the right thing is rarely the easy thing.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts