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Dear Dish-It: My Friend Has An Eating Disorder

Dear Dish-It,


I really need your help. I think my best friend has an eating disorder. I noticed in the past few months she’s lost a ton of weight but I don’t know how she did it. We used to go home to eat lunch every day but now she goes home alone and I eat my lunch at school so I don’t know if she’s eating or not. And she never has snacks or anything. When someone tells her she looks really good she always says she doesn’t and I really think she thinks she’s fat even though she isn’t! I don’t know why her parents haven’t noticed anything and I don’t know what to say or do. Help!


katy_katz


Dear kk,


I’m glad you sent in your question. An eating disorder is a serious problem and any time you think someone you know and love may have one it’s important to ask questions and figure out if you need to step in and offer your help and support. In order for you to be able to do that, you need to know the facts about eating disorders.


Signs Of Eating Disorders

Plenty of kids, teens and adults are very critical of their own bodies. It’s not surprising, considering the images we see every time we go to a movie, turn on the TV, read a magazine or surf the Internet – impossibly perfect and seriously skinny models. While almost all of us know these images have been airbrushed and worked on by graphic artists to hide any flaws and look completely perfect, it can be hard to keep those facts in mind when you look in the mirror and notice your body doesn’t look like those pictures do.


The problem happens when these thoughts cross the line and become unhealthy. An eating disorder can occur when you start to do things that are physically and emotionally dangerous – things that have long-term consequences.


There are different types of eating disorders. Some people go on starvation diets and can become anorexic. Others go on eating binges and then purge their bodies of the food they've just eaten through forced vomiting, compulsive exercise, taking laxatives or a combination of these – this kind of eating disorder is called bulimia.


So how do you know if a friend has an eating disorder? It can be hard to tell – after all, someone who's lost a lot of weight or feels constantly tired may have another type of health condition. But some of the signs that a friend may have an eating disorder include:

  • She has an obsession with weight and food and she talks about food, weight and being thin and nothing else
  • She kows exactly how many calories and fat grams are in everything she eats and is constantly pointing this out
  • She feels the need to exercise all the time, even when she’s feeling sick or tired
  • She avoids hanging out with you and other friends during meals
  • She starts to wear big or baggy clothes to hide her shape
  • She’s on a really dramatic or restrictive diet, cuts food into tiny pieces, moves food around on her plate instead of eating it and is very precise about how food is arranged on her plate
  • She seems to compete with others about how little she eats
  • She goes to the bathroom a lot, especially right after meals, or you've heard her vomiting after eating
  • She talks about how fat she is despite actually being thin or losing a lot of weight
  • She’s really defensive or sensitive about her weight loss or eating habits
  • She buys or takes laxatives or diet pills
  • She faints a lot, bruises easily, is really pale or complains a lot about being cold, which can be a symptom of being underweight

  • What To Do

    If your friend has these symptoms and you're concerned, the first thing to do might be to talk to your friend, privately, about what you've noticed. Tell her that you're worried. Be as gentle as possible, and try to really listen to and be supportive of your friend and what she’s going through. It's normal for people with eating disorders to feel guarded and private about their eating problems. Try not to get angry or frustrated. Remind your friend that you care.


    Sometimes the problem is that people with eating disorders often have trouble admitting, even to themselves, that they have a problem. Trying to help someone who doesn't think she needs help can be hard. If you decide to talk to your friend about this, she may be in denial and tell you nothing is wrong. If you still believe something IS wrong, talk to your parents, the school guidance counselor or nurse or even your friend's parents. This isn't easy to do because it can feel like betraying a friend. But it's often necessary to get a friend the help she needs.


    You can also support your friend by learning as much as you can about eating disorders. Your friend's body image and behavior may be a symptom of something else that's going on. Many organizations, books, websites, hotlines or other resources are devoted to helping people who are battling eating disorders.


    Being a supportive friend also means learning how to behave around someone with an eating disorder. Here are some ways to support a friend who is battling an eating problem:

  • Try your best not to talk about food, weight, diets or body shape (yours, your friend's, or even a popular celebrity's)
  • Try not to be too watchful of your friend's eating habits, food amounts and choices
  • Try not to say things like, “If you'd just eat (or stop working out so much), you'll get better”
  • Focus on your friend's strengths: her great smile, the fact that she’s helpful and friendly, how creative she is, how great she is at math, etc.
  • Don’t focus on how your friend looks

  • Most important, remind your friend that you're there no matter what and you want to help her get healthy again. Sometimes you'd be surprised how asking simple questions such as "what can I do to help?" or "what would make you feel better?" can lead to a great conversation about how you can help your friend heal.


    If you've got a burning question, need some love advice or find yourself thinking about things like sex, depression, self-esteem, boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends, bullying or peer pressure, don't hesitate to Dish-It here. Send your questions to deardish@kidzworld.com. And if you hang out in the chat rooms with other Kidzworld members who know you by your username, just send in your secret question using a different nickname if you want to stay anonymous – we promise that no one will ever know it's you. Remember: Dish-It gets a load of letters every day so it may take a while to reply to yours. Keep checking back for her reply, or watch for answered Dish-It questions that are similar to your own.


    Related Stories:
  • Dying To Be Thin
  • Eating Disorders Awareness Week
  • A Body Image Reality Check
  • Making Sure You’re Healthy
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