This year, the week of February 24 – March 2 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The week is put on by the National Eating Disorders Association, an organization that is committed to supporting those affected by various eating disorders and educating people about eating disorders.
The theme for this year is “Everybody Knows Somebody,” and considering the statistic that 30 million men and women suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime, it is indeed probably true that many of you could know somebody who has one.
Eating disorders can come in a variety of forms, which can make it a little confusing if you are concerned about a friend. That’s why being informed is very important. In addition to NEDA’s resources, Gurl has put together some statistics regarding eating disorders, and we also have addressed specific eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
An eating disorder isn’t something you can tell from looking at someone, but the Center for Young Women’s Health lists some “red flags” for various forms of eating disorders. Some anorexia warning signs could include skipping meals and counting calories. For bulimia, some red flags could be if your friend is often dieting or going to the bathroom during meals.
Warning flags for binge eating disorder could include hoarding food or hiding wrappers. In any of these cases, the CYWH advises that you first share your concerns with an adult as some “red flags” could have other possible explanations.
Trusted adults can be a great resource to talk through what you may be noticing about your friend. If you’re confused or scared, you can seek out a trusted adult like a parent, coach or guidance counselor. NEDA also has the Helpline that you can call and explain the situation, and their volunteers may be able to offer some suggestions for next steps.
If you do discuss your concerns with your friend, the CYWH says it should be a private discussion and you should do some research on eating disorders so you feel informed and prepared. Don’t be accusatory, but instead focus on what you have noticed in the form of “I” statements.
This should be a supportive conversation where you show your your encouragement and love for this person, not a judgmental one or one where you bring up topics like food or weight. You should also be prepared that your friend may get defensive, as individuals with eating disorders could be in denial or have been trying to keep their behaviors from being exposed.
Although it is in the NEDA toolkit for parents, one point that I think would be especially important for young people to also keep in mind is that you shouldn’t promise your friend you won’t tell anyone if they admit to having an eating disorder. One of NEDA’s important points is this: “Eating disorders are illnesses, not lifestyle choices.” You aren’t expected to know how to treat a complex illness, but there are people out there who can help your friend on a path to recovery. What you can do is be a source of support through the process.
While we should try to keep eating disorders at the forefront of conversation throughout the year, this week is an especially a good time to take on the mission of the “Everybody Knows Somebody” campaign and spread awareness about eating disorders. They even have numerous resources for teens about what you can do in your community to get people talking about the seriousness of eating disorders. The more people who are informed, then the more supportive they can be if their friend is one in need.
Do you feel like you are well-informed about eating disorders? Have you ever been worried that a friend could have an eating disorder? What did you do? Tell us in the comments.