Could you help a friend with an eating disorder?

eating disorder

Eating disorders are serious health conditions that require medical attention and personal and professional support. It’s estimated that in the US, 20 million women and 10 million men will have an eating disorder at some point in their life. To increase the chances of recovery, early detection and intervention is key.

Symptoms vary according to the type of eating disorder. The signs can include:

  • Not eating enough
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Frequent periods of eating large amounts of food (which may or may not be followed by behaviors to stop weight gain, like induced vomiting)
  • Feelings of shame or guilt around eating

How to help a friend

If you’re worried a friend might have an eating disorder, here’s what you can do to help:

  • Be honest with your friend that you’re concerned. You could say something like, “I’m concerned about you, because you don’t eat breakfast or lunch.”
  • Don’t make promises or threats, e.g., “If you don’t get help, I won’t speak to you again”
  • Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements (which imply blame). E.g., avoid saying “You just need to eat” or “You are acting irresponsibly”.
  • Compliment your friend on their accomplishments and successes.
  • Express your support.  Let your friend know you are there to help/talk.
  • Ask for help! You’re not expected to have all the answers. If you need advice or help, talk to your school’s health or counseling center.

MORE INFO: National Eating Disorders Association

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Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.