Are you worried someone you know has an eating disorder? These tips can help you support your friend.
Eating disorders can take a toll on both the body and the mind. It’s not easy to watch someone you care about go through a challenging time and potentially harm themselves in the process.
If you know someone with an eating disorder, you may be feeling worried or unsure of what you can do to help your friend.
Discussing your concerns may feel uncomfortable, but being there for your friend can be a valuable form of support. Equipped with a few tips, you may be able to help your loved one when they need it most.
“People suffering from body image issues will regularly compare their appearance to others. They may frequently make negative comments about their body shape or size. There could also be changes in behavior or mood,” says Dr. Allison Chase, a certified eating disorder specialist in Austin, Texas.
“Often people struggling with body image issues will withdraw from social activities or exhibit inappropriate or excessive sadness, anger or guilt,” explains Chase.
Dr. Erin Parks, a clinical psychologist based in San Diego, says there are many warning signs of eating disorders to look for, including:
- a new desire to eat healthily
- a sudden change in exercise habits
- disinterest in foods previously enjoyed
- feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about eating
- avoidance of situations that include eating in a group or with others
One way to help a friend with an eating disorder is to become a better listener.
While it may be difficult to hear them speak about themselves and what they’re going through without weighing in or passing judgment, it may be helpful to your friend to get their feelings out.
If you’re concerned that someone you care about is showing signs of an eating disorder, it’s important to broach the topic with compassion instead of giving advice that may seem critical or judgmental, saysParks.
“Focus instead on making sure the person knows you are there to listen and that you are coming from a place of concern,” explains Parks. Stay grounded on the facts and focus on the behaviors you’ve observed.
Consider using “I statements” when speaking to a loved one about eating concerns rather than sounding accusatory.
Try saying things like:
“I’ve noticed that you stopped eating your favorite food. Do you know why that might be?”
“I’m concerned about how often you are going to the gym, and I’m worried about you.”
Avoid saying things like:
“You looked better when you ate more!”
“You exercise too much!”
“Don’t make the conversation about their appearance,” says Parks, “instead, make the emphasis on how they feel.” People with eating disorders often find their thoughts are monopolized by thoughts of food or their body.
Parks suggests saying: “If you are having difficulty enjoying life because your brain wants to only think about food or your body, maybe it’s time to get some help so you can reclaim your thoughts.”
Getting help can be difficult for someone to do on their own. “The journey to recovery often requires a whole support system,” says Parks.
There is a plethora of information that can help you learn more about eating disorders and help you guide your friend who may be living with an eating disorder.
Learning about eating disorders
To support your friend, you may find it helpful to learn more about eating disorders. Here are some helpful resources to help you learn more about eating disorders:
- All About Anorexia Nervosa
- All About Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorder: All You Need to Know
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
- What Are the Symptoms of Pica?
Here are some valuable resources, including informative websites and support organizations that help people with eating disorders:
“There are a range of physical and behavioral signs that can indicate whether a person’s condition is getting worse,” says Parks.
Here are the signs she suggests looking out for:
- noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
- higher frequency of weigh-ins or mirror check-ins
- refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions of entire food categories (e.g., no carbohydrates, sugars, etc.)
- exercise interferes with important activities, occurs at inappropriate times, or the person exercises despite injury or other medical complications
- increase in mood swings
- intense anxiety or depression if unable to exercise or control food environments
- increase in negative body image or self-criticism
- increased self-isolation or lying to loved ones
It’s easy to neglect yourself when trying to support someone with an eating disorder. It’s a good idea to ensure you also have an outlet to discuss your feelings.
Consider confiding in a trusted friend or speaking with a therapist to help you emotionally recharge. Taking care of yourself can help you be a better friend and support person.
If you’re concerned about your friends’ eating-related thoughts or behaviors and are unsure how to help them, you’re in the right place.
By learning about warning signs, you may find you’re better equipped to support your loved one.
It’s a good idea to take the time to actively listen to your friend. When you’re ready to broach the subject, try to do so with compassion using “I statements” so your friend knows you’re coming from a place of concern and not judgment.
You might also benefit from making sure you have your own support system. It can be challenging for someone with an eating disorder to reach out for help on their own. By informing yourself and taking care of your mental health, you’ll be better prepared to share resources with your friend, so they know they’re not alone and help is available.