How to Help a Friend
Growing up in today’s world can be difficult in many ways. For example, most of us want to be liked and care about how we look. Sometimes, these kinds of things can get out of control and take up much more time and energy than we need them to. Surprisingly, many young men and women become so concerned about their weight and shape that they develop eating disorders. This is something that happens over a period of time and often comes as a surprise. No one ever started out to get an eating disorder and often doesn’t know what an eating disorder really is like. As funny as it may seem, eating disorders never have anything to do with food or weight. At first they seem as though they do because people often restrict and try to lose weight. But after a while, worries and thoughts about weight become obsessive and some young men and women lose their ability to determine what is good for them and what is not. Their whole life seems to be focused on their pursuit of thinness and often they lose touch with those they love most and isolate in a world of darkness. Hopefully, this will never happen to you or to anyone you know or love. But, since no one is spared from the potential of an eating disorder, we have provided you with some tips on how to help yourself or someone that you care about.
If you find that you have concerns or questions that you would like to speak to someone about, please know that we would be honored to talk with you. We will have someone available at Canopy Cove to answer your call and will keep our conversation confidential. You can reach us at 888-245-6555.
Harmful Eating Disorder Behaviors
- Restrict food intake or starve oneself (eat very little, eat nothing, or try to eat as little as possible)
- Binge (eat large quantities of food in a short period of time)
- Purge (use methods such as self-induced vomiting or laxatives to attempt to “get rid of” what has been eaten
- Compulsively overeat (eat even one is not hungry)
- Compulsively exercise (exercise too much, too vigorously or to a point that is intrusive in one’s life)
- Take diet pills, laxatives, diuretics or other pills or harmful substances
- Chewing/spitting (putting food in the mouth, chewing it up and then spitting it out – this is another form of bingeing/purging)
What if Someone You Know Tells You About His/Her Eating Disorder, and Asks You to Keep It a Secret
Listen compassionately and without judgment or criticism. If a friend confides in you, this is a very BIG step for them and they may be reaching out. Talk with your friend. Sometimes people change the subject or don’t say anything in response to a friend talking about problems because they don’t know what to say. If they ask you not to tell anyone, honor that request and let them know you care and are worried about them.
At this time you may not want to push them to talk to an adult or seek counseling, they may become frightened and pull back. In the near future, if they have not pursued help on their own, go back to them and let them know that you are very concerned and suggest that they might talk with someone who could help them.
If you see your friend continue to become worse either physically or through actions and he/she refuses to get help, talk to a teacher, counselor, pastor—someone you believe could help your friend. It may be breaking the trust but it could be saving a life.
How to Help a Friend
- Learn about eating disorders so that you will know the signs and symptoms when you see them.
- Recognize that eating disorders are very serious and can lead to death.
- Pay attention to any changes (i.e. eating habits/behaviors, dress/hygiene, socialization, mood/attitude).
- Talk to the person privately in a caring, straightforward manner regarding your observations.
- Do not accuse them, or discuss their weight or appearance; concern about weight loss may be interpreted as a compliment, comments regarding weight gain may be felt as criticism.
- Tell him/her that you are worried and want to help.
- Give them time to talk and encourage them to tell you what they are feeling.
- Listen to your friend with respect and sensitivity. Accept what they say. Do not argue or judge. Respond with non-judgmental statements such as: “that seems really hard” and “I wish that you did not have to go through this.”
- Be available when your friend needs someone.
- Do not be surprised if your friend denies having any of these unusual behaviors or finds reasons to explain all of them. Remember not to be deceived by their excuses.
- Don’t be afraid of your friend or loved one getting upset. Share your concerns with the person.
- Encourage the person to seek help by providing the person with professional support contact information. Don’t give demands or ultimatums.
- Remember it is ultimately the responsibility and the decision of the person to accept help and to change.
- If the person refuses to seek professional help, encourage them to reach out to an adult such as a teacher, school nurse, counselor or pastor.
- If the person continues to refuse to seek help and you believe that they well-being and/or life is in danger, talk to someone who you believe could help your friend. Never try to take action or solve the problem on your own.
- Pay attention to how you are feeling. For example, if you are angry or frustrated, avoid taking your emotions out on them (i.e. blaming). Instead step back until you are able to positively approach the situation.