3 Tips For Helping a Friend With an Eating Disorder

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Despite the recent awareness and education efforts, eating disorders are still surrounded in stigma that can make it hard to get help from even those closest to you. It can also make it difficult to talk to or offer support for friends you suspect of having a problem.

While it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, taking the step to reach out to a friend can be incredibly important – even lifesaving. Eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses and affect an estimated 30 million people of all ages in the United States. But, with the support and love of friends and family recovery is always possible.

To make starting the conversation easier, today I wanted to focus on tips for supporting a friend with an eating disorder:

Know the Signs

It isn’t uncommon for people living with an eating disorder to hide their struggles from everyone including their closest friends and family. That can make it hard to know whether your friend is just going through a rough patch or your gut-feeling is pointing towards something more serious.

The best way to be sure you’re taking the right step by reaching out and offering support is to watch for telltale warning signs, such as:

  • Concerned with body weight
  • Counting calories or food intake
  • Heavily focused on nutrition
  • Unexplained major weight loss or weight gain
  • Obsession with exercising
  • Constantly leaving to use the restroom right after meals
  • Making excuses to avoid eating
  • Often eating alone or in secret

It is also important to know that your friend may have an eating disorder even if they do not fit the stereotypical image of a frail young Caucasian woman. Eating disorders affect people of all races, genders, and body types.

Understand the Differences Between Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not one-size-fits-all. They take many different shapes and can have a variety of negative effects on the body. While it would be lengthy to cover an exhaustive list of eating disorders recognized by the medical community, the most common forms are:

Anorexia

Anorexia is characterized by the restriction of food to achieve a thinner body type. It is typically associated with body image issues related to a distorted perception of a person’s body, known as dysphoria.

Bulimia

Bulimia is most often recognized by the urge to ‘purge’ food immediately after eating and feelings of body shame. In some cases, individuals may avoid food for longer periods of time before bingeing on an excessive amount of food. Then, they purge the food in response to feelings of guilt and shame for eating.

Binge Eating Disorder

Anorexia and bulimia are considered “restrictive” eating disorders, because they develop around the compulsion to lose weight. Binge-eating disorder is unique from these in that someone with the disorder often binges on food to the point of discomfort, often as a way of handling issues with anxiety, shame, or guilt.

Take the Leap

You may still have doubts about whether your friend has an eating disorder, but don’t be afraid to reach out anyway. No harm can come from an honest, open offering of support between two friends. The important thing is to be sure to use a non-judgmental tone to bring up the topic in a safe way.

SheKnows suggests opening the conversation with open-ended statements or questions, such as “I’ve noticed you’ve been skipping meals lately. I care about you, and I’m worried.”

You may also try to focus on their mental and emotional well-being more than their body or weight. While the effects of an eating disorder may be most visible on the outside, they originate in the mind. In many cases, people with eating disorders say they also struggle with feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness related to their eating disorders. Talking about their body could trigger these feelings while showing you care about how they feel shows support and love.

If you think you or someone you know may be living with an eating disorder, call us at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and see if treatment is right for you.

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