If you're concerned about a friend and suspect they're struggling with an eating disorder or disordered behaviours around food and eating, ABC is here to support you too.
It can be tempting to jump in and try to understand what’s behind your friend’s eating disorder, especially if you are very close and have tended to share most things. Doing this however can have the opposite effect and instead of opening up, your friend is most likely to shy away from discussing it. Instead, stay calm and reassure them that you are there to listen whenever they need or want to talk.
If you suspect that your friend has an eating disorder but aren’t completely sure, avoid acting too hastily. If you and your friend are under 18 years old, seeking advice from a trusted adult can be a good way to get support but this should be done in confidence and only after you’ve established your friend has a problem. If your friend has chosen you to confide in, it’s important that you keep their trust (while making sure you also have someone to talk to and do not feel emotionally burdened).
They may become withdrawn and less interested in socialising, especially in larger friendship groups. If other friends notice and start to question their behaviour, try if possible to deflect the attention away from them. This is one of the ways you can let them know they have your complete support.
It’s likely that they could be finding it hard to keep up with the pressures of a daily routine. Whether it’s school, university or a career, helping them where you can to lessen or manage their workload will make everything seem less overwhelming – organising a study session together or swapping notes on a presentation are just some of the ways to help alleviate their stress.
Empathise with them – be clear that you want to understand how they feel.
Let them correct you if they feel you have not quite understood
Let them talk and listen to them without judgement or revealing your feelings on the situation
Try to focus on how they are feeling, NOT on what they are or are not eating
Help find a way that they can see their GP. Perhaps it would help if, with their agreement, you made the appointment and went with them, or perhaps they might find it helpful if you offer to get the conversation with the GP going so the doctor can then ask questions of your friend. This can help take the initial pressure off your friend and make the process feel less intimidating.
Emphasise that you are in this with them and that you will work with them to help them to feel better and happier.
Issue ultimatums (e.g. "if you don’t go to the Doctor I will tell your teachers/friend/parent/husband/wife what is going on")
Tell lots of people unnecessarily
Use emotional blackmail (e.g. "Do you know what this is doing to me?")
Get caught up in endless arguments about issues surrounding food and weight – for example, whether they are or are not fat, whether eating certain foods would or would not make them fat. It is pointless and will probably just end up with both of you frustrated, upset and fed up!
Focus on food and weight too much. For example, make sure you talk about recovery in terms of how they are feeling, and how they are coping with their life
Talk to us
These are just some of the ways we suggest you can best support your friend. Every person is different, however. If you'd like to talk to our support and information team, confidentially, about your concerns and what else you can do to help your friend, there are a number of ways to get in touch.
Email our family and friends support staff via email@example.com
Book a 1:1 support call appointment (Zoom, telephone or online chat) Tuesday - Fridays
Join our Family & Friends Peer Support Group fortnightly on Tuesday mornings