While many of us dread hearing the words “we need to have a talk,” if you’re wanting to know how to help a friend with an eating disorder, you may find yourself on the delivering end of this statement. When noticing a friend or loved one who may be struggling with disordered eating behaviors, our first impulse is to help, but since mental health issues can be so emotionally charged, it’s important to be prepared. Eating disorders are a serious concern, causing heart failure, electrolyte imbalances, gastric ruptures, and have a higher death rate than any other mental illness.
Before confronting someone you’re concerned about, there are a few helpful considerations to have insight about first. It is important to have clearly identified concerns and facts to back up those concerns. It’s essential to refrain from accusatory statements and operate from a place of compassion; if coming off too critical, it may cause your friend to withdraw further. Be prepared also for the possibility that even if you’re working from a sympathetic place, if your friend is not ready to look at the problem, he or she may become defensive or lash out at you for voicing your concerns.
An effective statement for a healthy conversation can sound like:
“I’m worried about the way you talk about your body, how little you eat when we go out and the emotions I feel from you around these issues. I would love to help and hope we can talk about what’s going on to cause this.”
Be specific about the basis of your concerns without applying labels too soon to your friends eating disorder behaviors. Many people believe they don’t have an eating disorder problem because they don’t fit the diagnosis for specific diseases like anorexia or bulimia; so voicing your concerns without attaching specifics will give them an opportunity to open up.
How to help a friend with an eating disorder in many ways is about showing support and consideration for what’s causing these behaviors. Being available to talk, showing confidence in your friend or loved one, and talking to them about solutions, like eating disorder treatment, seeing a therapist or nutritionist can have a huge impact. If you’re struggling with a friend who has an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to seek guidance and remember they have to do the work to become healthy again, but with a strong support system recovery is possible. For more information on how to help a friend with an eating disorder, please reach out to one of our compassionate admissions counselors. They will help you get started in the eating disorder treatment process for healing!