This last week of February is the time to talk about something really, really important: eating disorders. Why? February 22-28 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, reminding us that we all need to talk about this very serious issue more often.
Eating disorders are far too common in the United States – statistics show that 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Here at Gurl, we’re really committed to informing you guys about these dangers. We’ve written about anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. We have shared personal stories from people who have really gone through these things – like this essay from a reader about struggling with bulimia – and we’ve discussed how to tell if something is wrong with your diet habits.
Now it’s time to shift the focus just a little bit, and talk about how to help a friend who has an eating disorder. With so many cases of EDs out there, a lot of you are bound to be friends with someone who is struggling through something like this. It’s easy to shy away from the situation and tell yourself you can’t do anything, but that’s not true at all. You can, and should, help a friend who is dealing with an eating disorder. This time, more than ever, they need you by their side. That’s not to say that’s it easy – it usually isn’t. Someone with an eating disorder typically doesn’t want to admit that they have a problem, and helping them may be difficult. But it will be worth it.
So how can you be there for your friend who has an eating disorder? We partnered with Proud2BMe.org to give you some really helpful tips on how to help your friend out. Proud2BMe is an online community for girls and young women dedicated to building confidence and making everyone feel less alone. We couldn’t be happier to have their help in maneuvering this delicate situation. Here are 8 tips on how to help a friend who has an eating disorder:
Set A Time To Talk PrivatelyIt's important to note that it's better to talk to your friend early on, rather than waiting until things are really bad. If you feel like something bad is going on with her, don't wait to say something - speak up. Talk to your friend in a calm, private environment, and try to plan out your conversation so that you know exactly what you want to say. Source: ShutterStock
Don't Bring Up Their AppearanceHere's a really important tip to remember: don't start this conversation by saying something like "You look really thin lately" or "You've lost so much weight so quickly." This is exactly the kind of thing your friend wants to hear. She has an eating disorder because she wants to be thin - even though you're not saying that as a compliment, she'll probably take it as one. Instead, avoid bringing up her physical appearance at all. Saying something very negative will make her feel bad, and saying something about how thin she is may backfire. Talk about her emotional state more than her physical state. Source: ShutterStock
Avoid Shaming Or Blaming Your FriendThe last thing you want to do here is to make your friend feel like you're attacking her. Like Proud2BMe suggests, "Do not use accusatory 'you' statements such as, 'You just need to eat.' Or, 'You are acting irresponsibly.' Instead, use 'I' statements. For example: 'I’m concerned about you be- cause you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.' Or, 'It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.'" Source: ShutterStock
Communicate Specific Concerns Instead Of Being VagueExpect your friend to be defensive when you approach her about the possibility of her having an eating disorder. Since that will probably be the case, make sure you have specific instances to discuss. If you're vague, and just say things like, "I'm worried about you," it's easy for her to blow it off or turn it into something else. Like Proud2BMe says, "Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about your friend’s eating or exercise behaviors." Source: ShutterStock
Don't Act Like Simple Solutions Are The AnswerAn eating disorder is a very complicated thing that could take a really long time to get over. It may sound like an easy fix to you, but it's not. Don't make it seem like she just has to change one or two things and then she'll be okay - that makes it sound like you're patronizing her, which is really frustrating. Don't say things like, "All you have to do is eat more" or "Just stop binging and then you'll stop throwing up." Logically, your friend may realize that those are solutions, but in reality, she cannot make those solutions happen. Source: ShutterStock
Express Your SupportThroughout the entire conversation, make sure your friend knows that you are there for her no matter what. Be clear that you're here to support her, not to fight with her. Hug her, tell her how much you care about her, and let her know she can always talk to you about anything and you won't judge her. And then don't judge her! Also, don't fight with her here. This is a difficult time for her, so if she gets a little snappy, try to ignore it. Source: ShutterStock
Recommend Professional HelpIt's unrealistic to think that you alone can help your friend through this. Suggest that she get professional help. Come up with your own lists of psychiatrists or doctors she can speak to so that you've done the work for her. Offer to go with her to an appointment, or offer to be by her side when she calls a hotline number. Knowing you'll be there with her might make her feel better. Source: ShutterStock
Reach Out To Someone Else For HelpIf your talk with your friend wasn't successful, don't just shrug and think, "well, at least I tried." Go to someone else, like a trusted adult - maybe a parent, teacher, counselor, or other guardian. See if they can help your friend. As Proud2BMe says, "This is probably a challenging time for both of you. It could be helpful for you, as well as your friend, to discuss your concerns and seek assistance and support from a professional." Source: ShutterStock
If you, or anyone you know, has an eating disorder and wants help, please call the National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or try their Click-To-Chat message system. If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder but you aren’t sure, you can take this private online screening quiz to find out.
Have you ever been friends with someone who had an eating disorder? How did you deal? What did I forget? Tell me in the comments.