Dear Dish-It: My Friend Has An Eating Disorder
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!
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:
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:
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.
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