Confronting a friend with an eating disorder is difficult but not impossible, and is always necessary. The challenging part is choosing the right words and the right time to approach your friend so he or she might hear and accept your care and concern. Here is some advice that may help you support a friend who struggles with an eating disorder.
The first and most important piece of advice is: Educate yourself. Have some general knowledge of eating disorders and the type of disorder you think your friend may have. Second, have a plan of what you want to say and how you want to approach the subject. Be prepared to give real examples of disturbing behavior that you have observed in your friend and the concern you feel when you witness that behavior. Third, arrange for a good time to have this conversation. It should happen in a private and quiet location. The conversation should not happen while eating, exercising or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Your approach must never be in a critical, blaming or finger-pointing manner. Anyone with an eating disorder is already filled with self-imposed guilt. Be prepared for your friend to become defensive or even angry. Be aware that he or she will have an excuse or logical explanation for every example of disturbing behavior you cite.
You must remain caring but firm in your conviction that the way your friend is treating his or her body is not healthy. Make it clear that this conversation is not the end of your friendship or a rift in the relationship. Focusing on specific behaviors is more conducive to a productive conversation than focusing on the fact that they have an eating disorder in general.
Finally, leave them with the option to talk with you at any time. Recognize that you alone will not be able to help them. A psychologist, doctor and a family member may need to be involved in your friend’s recovery.
Never get in over your head with your time or your emotions. It will not help your friend and only cause you stress. Express your concerns, offer your support, never enable eating disorder behaviors, and know that the ultimate choice to recover belongs to your friend.
This is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. There will be activities held on campus all week. If you have any questions or want more information on how to help a friend with an eating disorder you can make an appointment to see a nutritionist or eating disorder specialist for free. Call 893-3371 to make an appointment.
Lisa Nelson is a Healthy Eating And Living peer for Student Health.