How to Help a Friend With Anorexia or Bulimia
Eating Disorders Are Difficult to Witness
There is hardly a more helpless feeling than seeing a loved one with an eating disorder. Yet, you can help a friend with anorexia or bulimia, even if you cannot cure them.
This subject is very close to my heart having suffered from both anorexia and bulimia for nearly a decade from high school through law school. I have also witnessed a number of friends and family members succumb to the difficulties of enduring an eating disorder. With my own experience fresh at hand, I found it very upsetting and aggravating to watch my loved ones suffer. Even though I have been publishing articles online for nearly 5 years, I have not been able to bring myself to write about this subject until now.
From my own experience, I can tell you that this addiction is more shameful and more misunderstood than those issues that appear to be more "socially acceptable," such as alcoholism or addiction to cigarettes. I cannot tell you the number of times that I bemoaned the prognosis of an eating disorder as a greater flaw of character than someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. In fact, I have read several articles in which people who have been to rehab have discussed the priority of addictions, with eating disorders at the very bottom.
Let's face it. A person who gets drunk or passes out is laughed at, or others feel sorry for him or her. But one who spends time in a bathroom purging is regarded as a disgusting individual.
Like Any Addiction, the Person With an Eating Disorder Must First Want to Stop
I wish I could tell you that a simple intervention or plea for help would get a response.
Unfortunately, the first 5 years of my eating disorder, I did not believe I needed help, nor did I want any assistance. I honestly believed that I was allowed to control my weight with starving myself or binging and purging.
Even though my parents made me go to counseling sessions, I lied, manipulated and refused to accept any assistance offered to me.
As with any addiction, however, I eventually grew tired of the double life I was living. My friends were catching on, and even making fun of me behind my back. I hated the person that I was every time I engaged in bulimic actions. I would cry in the bathroom and pray that I would be cured.
Living with an Eating Disorder
What Not to Say to a Friend With Anorexia or Bulimia
- Have you lost weight?
- Here, eat something
- How much do you weigh?
- Let me tell you about ______, who has an eating disorder
- Are you starving yourself?
- You must have a really high metabolism
- What is your BMI?
- Your clothes are falling off of you
- You look gaunt
- You must be living at the gym
- How do you do it?
Helping a Friend With Anorexia or Bulimia
Think of any difficult situation a friend might be going through - a parents' divorce, a serious illness of a family member, the death of a loved one.
Under these circumstances, they do not want advice. All your friend needs is a person to listen and/or to be there. You can help them immensely simply by being available to talk.
When a friend has anorexia or bulimia, they are already feeling invisible and not heard. Often times, the eating disorder is a cry for attention. Listening without judging, offering love and compassion are the best things you can do.
Once your friend expresses a desire to be helped with their eating disorder, you may (gently) suggest resources such as counseling, books, etc. Until then, your help will not be accepted, and merely regarded as judgment and the source of additional pain.
The Reality of a Young Woman With Anorexia
But it Doesn't Make Any Sense!
Oh, I have heard this plea, so many times.
Unfortunately, as with any addiction, the person that wants to help believes that they can reason with the one that is sick. However, they must realize that they are trying to negotiate with the eating disorder, rather than the sufferer.
As Dr. Phil often states, you are not dealing with the person, but the addiction itself. In other words, your conversations with the person suffering from an eating disorder are not really with that person, but rather with the disease. This means that you are not actually addressing the individual you used to know, but the changed version of them as a result of the addiction.
Keep this in mind to protect yourself from the pain of rejection you might otherwise feel. This person is not the same friend or family member you used to know. Their actions are not truly their own.
Signs of an Eating Disorder
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pulling away from friends and family
- Wearing baggy clothes
- Making excuses for not eating
- Avoiding mirrors and cameras
- Playing with food, rather than eating
- Thinning hair at a young age
- Going to bed unusually early and/or sleeping in
- Unusual interest in new recipes and preparing food for others
- Unexplained, new obsessions, including weather, statistics, etc.
- Avoiding social interactions
- Unexplained changes in school work or grades
- Loss of interest in hobbies