Are you concerned a friend may have an eating disorder? How can you be sure and what can you do or say?
Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia are serious medical conditions, which can be fatal if left untreated.
If you’re approaching a friend about a suspected eating disorder, remember to do so in a caring, non-judgemental way.
Many people with eating disorders say they are fine and just want everyone to leave them alone. However, in reality, they may be feeling scared and isolated and unsure how to stop the eating disorder from controlling their life.
They can put a lot of effort into hiding the condition, so it can be difficult to diagnose. But the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the chance is of recovery.
Here are our top five tips for supporting a friend with an eating disorder.
Know your facts
Before you talk to your friend, make sure you have read up on eating disorders and know your facts. For example, there are different types of eating disorders, symptoms and possible causes.
Be kind and non-judgemental
The last thing a person with an eating disorder wants is to feel judged. They may already be feeling alone, confused and ashamed. Knowing they have a friend who cares and who will listen is often the first step in helping them on the road to recovery. Try to use language that isn’t critical or judgemental and be compassionate.
Being honest about your concerns shows your friend you care. While it may be a conversation you are nervous to have, it’s an important one that may be life-saving. It helps to pick a time and location where you can talk face-to-face in private and your friend is feeling comfortable and relaxed.
Encourage them to seek professional help
The most important thing you can do, apart from letting your friend know you’re there to help, is to encourage them to seek professional help. The longer an eating disorder is left untreated, the harder it is on their body and mind to recover. Encourage them to see their GP, who can provide a diagnosis and advice on where to get further help.
Keep supporting them
Be aware your friend may become defensive or angry and even try to deny they have a problem. You can’t force somebody to seek help, especially if they’re an adult, so just keep letting them know you’re there to support them. And once they do seek professional help, keep supporting them throughout their journey to recovery.
Remember, if your friend’s health or life is at risk, then seek medical advice immediately.
Help, support and understanding for people with eating disorders and their families edanz
Eating disorders NZ Mental Health Foundation
Eating disorders NZ Ministry of Health