How to help a friend with an eating disorder
Eating disorders are dangerous and heartbreaking - and sadly very common. How can you help a friend facing this problem?
Sarah’s friends are getting worried about her. She never needed to lose weight, but they can see that her school uniform is looking looser and looser, and she always seems to have an excuse for not eating.
“Oh, I had something before,” she says or, “I’m not really hungry right now.” She pinches her wrist and arm when she thinks no-one is looking, and she’s always scrolling on Instagram, liking and saving photos of super-skinny models.
Mikaela’s friend Samantha is also worried, but for a different reason. Sam can see Mikaela getting into the chips and donuts at youth group in a big way, and noticed a whole pile of chocolate wrappers in her room the other day. She doesn’t think Mikaela is putting on weight, but she has noticed that she spends a lot of time in the bathroom on her own.
“Should I say something?” Samantha wonders. “Is it any of my business?”
“Should we tell someone?” Sarah’s friends ask each other. “Or are we just being nosey?”
It’s hard to know what to do if you suspect your friend has an eating disorder. If you try to help, you might lose the friendship. If you do nothing, you might lose your friend.
As Christians, we love and care for each other, so it’s good to do what we can to help. But sometimes we need wisdom in knowing how best to do that. With that in mind, here's some ways you can help your friend, if you're worried about them.
Pray and examine yourself
Make sure that any actions you take come from a real love for your friend, not from your own need to be important or noticed. Pray for wisdom and love and sensitivity for yourself. Pray for healing, truth and support for your friend.
Find out as much as you can about eating disorders. Read up on symptoms, causes and recovery stories (see the end of this article for some places to start).
Tell an adult
Choose someone who you know is wise, caring and mature and share what you’ve noticed.
Express your concern to your friend
You could say something like, “I’ve noticed that you do things like move your food around your plate without eating it. I’m wondering if maybe you’ve got some food issues?”
Whatever else you say, stay calm and don’t get angry, panicky or over-worried. Be prepared for her (or him) to be defensive. It takes a lot for people to admit that they have an eating disorder. Offer your support and say you’ll be there for as long as it takes.
For as long as it takes. The road to recovery is long, painful and arduous. It will test your friendship and your love, but remember that your friend needs you, and that love is patient and kind, and never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13)
Be aware of the bigger issues
Eating disorders often come about because people feel out of control or unloved. If your friend tries to share her feelings with you, don’t dismiss them or tell her that she’s stupid for feeling such things. Listen as well as you can and resist the temptation to give her answers or judgment.
If the person you are worried about is in your family, be aware that some of her painful feelings may have come from family relationships. If you feel unable to help because you are getting defensive and angry, you might need to pull back a bit and find someone else who can help.
Know what you can’t do
You can’t heal your friend. You can’t make her choose to recover. And you can’t solve her problems. In the end, only she is the person who can decide whether or not she wants to get well. She is the only person who can decide to take the help that is offered to her. What you can do is to support her, pray for her and be there for her as she makes the decisions and takes the steps towards healing.
Get more help
These links will help you learn more about eating disorders and how to help:
Another personal story of recovery from anorexia http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/truelifestories/ithappenedtome/7.50.html
Freedom from eating disorders (Christian site) http://www.freedomfromed.com/
Good information on different types of eating disorders, with a Christian testimony about recovery http://www.everystudent.com/features/acceptance.html
The best book I’ve ever read on spiritual and personal growth. It would help anyone who was serious about recovery http://www.cloudtownsendstore.com/howpegrbo1.html
Advice for friends who want to help http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/problems/friend_eating_disorder.html
National Eating Disorders Association (USA) https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
NHS Eating Disorders Information (UK) http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Eatingdisorders/Pages/eatingdisordershomepage.aspx
Eating Disorders Foundation (VIC) http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/
Eating Disorders Association (QLD) http://www.eda.org.au/
Eating Disorders Association (South Australia) http://www.edasa.org.au/
Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders (NSW) http://www.cedd.org.au/
Tasmanian Eating Disorder Website http://tas.eatingdisorders.org.au/
A printable brochure from the Australian Government on eating disorders http://www.mmha.org.au/mmha-products/fact-sheets/what-is-an-eating-disorder/what-is-an-eating-disorder-english/file