When I was in high school, I discovered that one of my good friends had an eating disorder; anorexia to be specific. It was so severe that she was put in a rehab center at a local hospital and eventually left school. I felt like a complete idiot because I sat with this girl every single day at lunch, and I never noticed a thing. But I also learned that eating disorders are sneaky, no matter how close you are with the person suffering.
Years later, I’m once again in a situation because one of my best friends suffers from disordered eating and it’s always tough to talk about. I’ve known for two years now, but I still feel like I sometimes say the wrong things whenever we talk about it. That said, over time I’ve definitely learned what’s helpful and what’s not so helpful. If you’re in a similar situation, check out these 10 things you should know before you talk to your friend about their eating disorder.
Let Them Know That You're Worried, Not AngryDon't be judgmental. Don't be harsh. Don't be callous. Remind your friend that you're worried about them, not pissed off at them for hurting themselves. You can be firm, but remember to stay warm. Don't interrogate them, constantly asking if they've eaten or if they've thrown up that day. You might mean well, but that just adds stress for your friend and that's the last thing they need. Photo source: My Mad Fat Diary/E4
Do Some Research Before Talking About Their ED In DetailHow are you going to be empathetic of your BFF's bulimia if you don't really know anything about it beyond "you throw up after dinner"? Check out the basic medical info but also check out eating disorder recovery blogs so you can gain some more insight. If your friend who has an ED is part of a marginalized group--queer, black, Asian, Muslim, etc--that often isn't the focus of mainstream ED discussions, do some Googling and find some blogs for support within their demographic. You might want to recommend it to them later. Photo source: Moonrise Kingdom/Focus Features
Don't Talk To Them About Their ED/Body Image/Etc During A MealPlease...please don't do this. Meal times are stressful enough for people who have EDs. The last thing they want to deal with is listening to you watch their food intake like a hawk and start chatting about their purging. Hold off for another time. Photo source: Skins/E4
Don't Comment On Your Or Their Weight/Eating HabitsEven if you think you're being supportive, commenting on weight gained or lost can be super triggering. Don't hesitate to say your friend looks like a total babe, of course, because they are, but don't assume that they're getting better or worse simply based on physiology. Pointing out that their meal is healthy or unhealthy isn't helpful either. Also, refrain from going on and on about your weight or eating habits around them, too. Okay, so you think you look bloated today. Keep it to yourself. Photo source: Shutterstock
Have A Healthy Relationship Around FoodDon't go on and on about calories when you're around a friend who already stresses out about that enough as is. Eat in a way that isn't alarmist and scary but totally normal and fun. Photo source: Daria/MTV
Remind Them That You're Open And Willing To Talk About Their ED WheneverOftentimes people with EDs will feel like they're burdening their friends whenever they talk about their struggles. Remind them that that isn't the case with you and that you're always there to talk if they need to talk. You'll be left in a dark a lot less often. Photo source: Fresh Meat/E4
Don't Participate In Any Destructive CommentaryMy friend with disordered eating issues always talks about what other people are eating. Her sister ate a ton of brownies, her coworker ate a blah blah blah, etc. One thing that people with EDs might do is criticize and judge what other people are eating. Don't play into this. Just shrug it off or change the subject. Photo source: Heathers/New World Pictures
Don't Be Overly Congratulatory About ThemOkay, so you're proud that your friend has started eating lunch more regularly or that your friend hasn't claimed that she's nauseous after a meal for over two weeks. Awesome! But don't make things awkward by being overly congratulatory. Telling your anorexic friend that you're so proud of her for eating a burger can come across as condescending or just downright uncomfortable. Be supportive but tread lightly. Photo source: Clueless/Paramount
Don't Hesitate To Suggest Outside HelpTherapy isn't a cure all, but since EDs are often accompanied wit other psychological problems like depression, anxiety, etc, it isn't a bad idea to find out whether or not they would consider seeing a professional about their problems. Emphasize that it's not that you're tired of hearing them talk about their ED but, rather, you want to make sure they're getting as much help as possible. Photo source: Peanuts/Charles Schultz
Remember That They're More Than Their EDYour friend has an eating disorder, but that doesn't mean that they're not the same person underneath all the baggage. They're still that person you want to go to concerts with and have a Netflix marathon with and send awful Vine links to. They also just happen to have an unhealthy relationship with food and their body. Be there for them to talk about those issues, but don't make it the only thing you two talk about. Your friendship is more than that! Photo source: Skins/E4
Do you have a friend with an eating disorder? Do you two talk about it or avoid it all together? What helps and what doesn’t? Tell us in the comments!