I Think My Friend Has an Eating Disorder

I think my friend has an eating disorder. She moved away last year but I just went to visit her and I was so shocked by how much weight she lost. I kept saying how skinny she was but she laughed it off and said she was still fat and asked me a bunch of times if her outfits made her look fat or chubby. I kept tellin her no but it didn’t matter. I only spent a couple days with her so I don’t really know like if she’s really still eating normal meals but I only saw her eat once in two days and I stayed at her house. Her mom kept tryin to get her to eat too. She kept sayin she wasn’t hungry or didn’t feel good. I asked if she was doing ok but she just kept talking about TV shows, how happy she is that schools out and wanting to try out for cheerleading since we’re gonna be in high school now and we were both in it for middle school. She used to really talk to me about stuff too. Anyway, I’m probably gonna see her again soon so what do I say to her?

-Worried Friend

Dear Worried Friend,

This does sound concerning. From what you wrote, I take it you haven’t seen your friend in a year. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on without knowing her or the details about what’s changed. The tween/teen years are full of body changes involving hormones and height change, so sometimes people lose or gain weight and their bodies look very different. However, her behavior and the fact that you say you only saw her eat once in two days is definitely a big red flag.

I’m glad that you tried to talk to her to see what else is going on because eating disorders are about so much more than food; they’re about control, self-esteem, and can often be connected to other deeper issues. Some people deal with inner struggles or traumatic events by using food as an escape, and/or abusing it by over or under-eating.

Sports in which body image plays an important role can also add to self-esteem issues, and cheerleading is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming eating disorders on sports, and cheerleading may not even be a factor for your friend. But the fact that they can add body image stress is something to consider. I know plenty of people who have participated in sports like cheerleading, ballet, and wrestling who have been positively motivated to become or continue to be physically fit. But, it’s important to look at this particular situation from different angles since there’s many more unknowns than knowns.

You need to talk to your friend. If you don’t feel comfortable having this conversation in person then call her or take the time to write her a thoughtful email. An in-person conversation is always best, but it’s up to you.

  • If you are able to talk to her in person, make sure that it is not over or around food.
  • I suggest starting the conversation by asking her if she has been dealing with any stress or drama. Maybe you can share a little more about how you’ve been to remind her that you two have that kind of friendship, which could open her up a bit more.
  • Let her know you are concerned about how she’s doing, but don’t focus on food or her appearance. Instead focus on how she’s doing emotionally, saying something like, “I noticed that you’re worrying a lot more about how you look and not really talking to me in the way that we used to, and that worries me.”
  • Suggest getting help, but don’t push it. You could say, “Getting an outside perspective on everything you’re dealing with could be really helpful. They could probably help you find other ways to handle it all.”
  • Avoid using labels. You aren’t a medical professional and she has not been diagnosed with anything that you know of, so avoid labels. If you were to call her anorexic that would probably offend her (as it would anyone whether they are or not), and you don’t want her to become defensive and shut you out.
  • Don’t try to tell her that she needs to eat more and don’t push food on her in any way. Any type of issue regarding eating, body image, and self-esteem is a really sensitive topic. If you try to tell her to eat it is perceived as you trying to control her or you’re judging her.
  • If she has an eating disorder, the chances of her getting help after one conversation are slim. You have to let her know you’re worried, but you can’t make her do anything. No one can change or fix anyone. People have to not only want to change, they also have to take the necessary steps on their own in order to really go down that path and stay on it.
  • Even if someone (possibly your friend) decides to get help for an eating disorder at some point, it’s important to realize that it is a complex illness. Many people (men and women) struggle with them for years, experiencing successes and set-backs. Some are able to get help and are able to work through the issues beneath the surface, but it really depends on the person and his/her situation.
  • Your friend’s situation may or may not be this serious. There could be many different reasons why she wasn’t eating and is more worried about how she looks, but I think it’s better for me to give you more information vs. not enough.
  • If your friend’s issues with food continue and get worse after you’ve talked to her, consider talking to her mom or another adult about what else can be done to help her. 

 

For more information from reliable websites visit:

Eating Disorders: What Teens Need to Know and How to Help a Friend from University of Michigan Health System

Teen Eating Disorders article from the Mayo Clinic

Helping a Friend With an Eating Disorder from Caltech Counseling Center

Eating Disorders: Facts and Treatment from the National Institute of Mental Health

 

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