Helping a friend with an eating disorder
How do you help someone with an eating disorder? Use our step-by-step guide and you'll provide the best support for your friend and yourself.
Step one: talking to someone about their eating disorder
If you suspect your friend has eating problems but are not sure, the worst thing you can do is go in all guns blazing. Here are some dos and don'ts to help you get a conversation started.
- Set a time to talk: make sure you will be alone and have plenty of uninterrupted time together.
- Tell them your concerns: keep a caring tone and gently use specific examples that have worried you the most.
- Encourage them to talk: don't make it a lecture, listen to your friend's reactions and accept what they tell you without being judgemental.
- Force them to talk: if your friend isn't ready to discuss the problem, that's OK - if you try to force too much too soon it could push them away. At this stage the most important step is them understanding you are concerned and that you are there to support them,
- Argue: you may not agree with your friend's reactions, especially if they deny that they have a problem, but arguing about it will only make the matter worse and run the risk of your trust being lost. Again, repeat the reasons for your concern and make it clear that you are there if they need someone to talk to.
Step two: looking after yourself
Helping a friend through an eating disorder is a tough ride for you as well and you may well find that in amongst all the worrying about another person you forget about your own needs. If your friend is hiding their problems and the burden of carrying the secret is too much for you, you may have to talk to a third party. Trying to play the hero by taking everything on yourself will leave you exhausted, and that's no good to someone who needs your support. As well as taking some of the strain off of you, telling someone else will give extra support to your friend in the long run.
Step three: keep communicating
- Be patient: demanding to know everything or offering over-simplified solutions such as "Just start eating and you'll be fine" are not helpful. Instead offer continued support.
- Focus on the good: remind your friend of their good points and focus on personality rather than appearance. Low self-esteem is a common characteristic of people with eating disorders, so let them know why they are so special. Avoid blaming them or making them feel guilty, and use the word "I" instead of "you".
- Don't skirt around the subject: talk openly about your worries - if you avoid it, so will they.
Step four: act by example
- Be a role model: continue to eat a balanced diet and try to exercise regularly. Do this openly without making it a big issue.
- Swot up: learn as much you can about eating disorders through books, websites and organisations. Knowing the facts will help you if your friend tries to blind you with inaccurate information about their eating habits.
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