It’s heartbreaking seeing a friend in pain, and when you are sure they have an eating disorder, it can become especially difficult. If you know they are starving themselves, or if you see them purge after binge eating, you might feel as if you are on the outside looking in; seeing destructive behaviour, but not sure how to help.
You might be tempted to tell your friend off for harming their body in such a way. Or you might say nothing at all, hoping that the problem they are suffering from will somehow go away. Neither option is useful.
So, what should you do?
First of all, know that the issue isn’t with food. As we suggested in our article here, https://dr-julian.com/blog/how-is-your-mental-state-affecting-your-physical-health/, it is a person’s mental state that can affect their physical wellbeing. In the event of an eating disorder, it is usually brought about by stress-related issues in the person’s life, and/or because of a faulty mindset about their body and weight. When trying to help, therefore, you need to understand that there might be issues around their mental wellbeing that you may not be equipped to deal with.
However, there are three important things you can do.
- Talk to them
Express your concerns and let them know that you are there for care and support. Be aware, however, that many people with an eating disorder try to keep this part of their life a secret. They can feel guilty and ashamed about their behaviour, and this can affect their already fragile mental state. They might not open up to you straight away, although you might still be able to get an insight into what led them to their eating disorder. Stay calm and patient, and whether they talk to you straight away or not, affirm your friendship to them. When speaking to them, don’t judge them on their behaviour. They already feel bad enough. And be careful not to make any glib comments, such as ‘you need to eat more,’ as you may cause them to react angrily. Instead, listen, seek to understand, and ask them if there is anything you can do to support them.
- Educate yourself
There are lots of myths about eating disorders, so you need to differentiate facts between fiction. Go online to do your research, and read articles such as this one, https://www.verywellmind.com/eating-disorder-myths-and-truths. While you can’t force your friend to change and stop what they are doing, you will be able to gain some understanding of the condition they are living with. And if you also have an idea of why they are doing what they are doing, you might be able to offer better care and support, and that will go some way towards their eventual recovery.
- Encourage them to get help
If your friend is resistant, then you should let them know that you might need to ask for support on their behalf. Tell them it’s because you care and because you love them, and hopefully, they will start to see sense. A doctor is the best person to assess their needs, so when possible, make the appointment with them, and offer to go along with your friend for moral support. The doctor will then point your friend to the right place for treatment, which could include counselling services such as ours, as well as hospitalisation in a specialist medical centre.
For further advice on how best to help your friend pre and post-recovery, there are helplines you can call. Take a look at this site, https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/, and speak to somebody for professional advice. Especially when your friend is resistant to getting help, a qualified professional will guide you on the best steps to take. They are also available to talk to your friend should they be open to the suggestion.
After taking advice, and seeking help, your friend should then get the help they need.
It might be a long road to recovery, but as a friend, be with them every step of the way. They should have received expert advice about the recovery process themselves, so ask your friend what you can do to support the steps they are taking. Educate yourself too, looking for advice online about the recovery process, reading articles such as this one, https://tapestrync.com/crafting-anorexia-recovery-meal-plan/. By doing so, you will be in a better place to offer continued help.
With time and care, your friend will come through. Stick with them, affirm your care, and continue to look for eating disorder signs later on in the event they suffer a relapse. Hopefully, however, they will return to their normal self and way of thinking, and part of this will be because of your invaluable friendship.