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What Should I Say To a Friend With an Eating Disorder?

If you are worried about your friend's eating behaviors or attitudes, then it is appropriate for you to express your concerns to her in a loving and supportive way. It is important to handle these issues with honesty and respect. It is also important to discuss your worries early on, rather than waiting until your friend has endured many of the damaging physical and emotional effects of eating disorders.

Steps for an Effective Intervention

Step 1: Building Your Foundation

Before speaking with your loved one, consider the following:

  • How has this situation impacted you? How has it affected your relationship?
  • How have you been trying to control your friend or loved one?
  • What actual behaviors have you witnessed? What have you actually heard?
  • Consider the outcome you want. How realistic is it? Distinguish between negotiable and non-negotiable issues. Consult with others on this for perspective.
  • Who else should be directly involved in the intervention?
  • Consult with the Counseling Center or another mental health professional on how to proceed.

Step 2: The Actual Meeting

Set an appropriate time and place, convenient for all involved. In a private and relaxed setting, talk to your friend in a calm and caring way about the specific things you have seen or felt that have made you worry.

  • Share your memories, feelings, observations, and wishes. Share your memories of two or three specific times when you felt concerned, afraid, or uneasy because of her eating rituals. Talk about the feelings you experienced as a result of these events.
  • Try to talk in a very supportive, non-confrontational way.
  • Use "I" statements. For example, "I'm concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch" or "It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting."
  • Avoid accusatory "you" statements. For example, "You have to eat something! You must be crazy!" or "You're out of control!"
  • Really listen to whatever your friend or loved one needs to say.

Step 3: Requests for Change

  • Address your non-negotiable issues with your friend or loved one in terms of what you'd like to see changed. Again, distinguish between asserting your rights versus trying to control your friend's behavior.
  • Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, "If you'd just stop, everything would be fine!" If your friend has become obsessed with eating, exercising, or dieting, she probably needs professional help.

Your friend may be angry that you are questioning her attitudes and behaviors. Your friend may deny that there is a problem. If your friend won't listen to your concerns, you may need to tell someone else, someone who can help. Consider talking to your friend's parents, a teacher, a doctor, a counselor, or a nutritionist. Your friend needs as much support and understanding as possible from the people in his or her life. Suggest that he or she seek support through the Counseling Center—you can offer to go with your friend to the first appointment.

Remember, you cannot force someone to seek help, change their habits, or adjust their attitudes. You will make important progress in honestly sharing your concerns, providing support, and knowing where to go for more information. People struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder do need professional help. There is help available, and there is hope!

This page is partially based on information provided by the National Eating Disorders Association. ©2005, National Eating Disorders Association. Permission is granted to copy and reprint materials for educational purposes only.

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