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How do I help my friend who is in denial about her eating disorder?

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My friend has been starving herself and eating only around 500 calories a day at most for the past few weeks. She only eats a few crackers and when she eats more she makes herself throw up. She refuses to accept that she has an issue although she hasn’t had her period in 3 months, she feels faint, dizzy at random times,  and tired ALL the time. No matter how much we try to tell her she has to see a professional, she thinks she doesn’t need to. We can’t tell her parents either because they are a part of the problem and it’d make the situation worse. She’s not fat either but she’s adamant that she is. How do we help her and convince her to see a doctor?

How do I help my friend who is in denial about her eating disorder?

Answered by on -

A.

You are right. Your friend is showing symptoms of a serious eating disorder. Although what you are describing looks like anorexia, I don’t have enough information to label it. But the label really doesn’t matter. What she has in common with those who are diagnosed is her unrealistic assessment of her body, her unwillingness to feed herself, and her exhaustion. The fact that she is now missing her period suggests to me that this has been going on much longer than the last few weeks.

Your friend is engaging in what could be life-threatening behavior. It’s already threatening her health. I truly wish there was a way to convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced. Generally, arguing, debating, even presenting them with facts, doesn’t work. It’s not likely that showing her my response will help either, but it’s worth a try. I hope she will seek help knowing that I agree with you.

If not, I suggest you tell her that as much as you care for her, you are not equipped to help her. You could tell her if she won’t seek help herself, out of caring for her, you will be forced to let someone know who can help.

Your friend’s secret is not a secret you should keep. When people endanger their own life (or the lives of others), confidentiality rules are no longer relevant. If she gets drastically ill or dies, I don’t think you can or should have to live with the fact that you knew she was in danger and did nothing.

I’m sorry you don’t think her parents would be helpful. If that’s so, they probably won’t listen to you, a teen-aged friend of their daughter.

Your other option besides talking to her parents then, is to see your school’s nurse or a teacher you trust to clue them in. Her parents might listen to another adult, both because they respect adults more and, possibly, because they wouldn’t want the school to think they were not taking their daughter’s well-being seriously.

I’m very glad you wrote. Taking action could mean saving her life. No, I’m not being overly dramatic. A 2011 study that reviewed almost 50 years of researched showed that the mortality rate for people with anorexia is the highest of any mental disorder.

I wish you well,

Dr. Marie

How do I help my friend who is in denial about her eating disorder?

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). How do I help my friend who is in denial about her eating disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2019/10/01/how-do-i-help-my-friend-who-is-in-denial-about-her-eating-disorder/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Sep 2019 (Originally: 1 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Sep 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.