On the Outside: Helping A Friend Through An Eating Disorder

Photo: (Getty)

Photo: (Getty)

This week is National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)’s annual awareness week, “the largest education and outreach effort on eating disorders in the United States.” The theme of this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness week is “Everybody Knows Somebody.” The campaign’s theme resonated deeply with me, because I know somebody: my best friend from high school.

It’s a rough estimate, but I’d guess Jen* and I spent at least a quarter of our high school days in spandex. As volleyball players, there was little we could do to avoid it. And honestly, we would have done anything to get out of our private school’s plaid skirts and overly starched button downs. The thing about spandex, though, is that it often flatters no one: every roll, rib, and curve is on display — healthy weight or otherwise.

The first time I consciously remember worrying about Jen was sometime before our senior year. I knew she had dealt with an eating disorder in the past, and her behavior was starting to concern me. At the time, however, I naively assumed that she would have come to me if she needed help. We never fought, could be found pouring over fashion magazines in her bedroom on the weekends, and had a weird yet awesome shared sense of humor.

The next few months passed quickly: she withdrew; I was hurt at our suddenly tumultuous friendship. When I finally found out that she was struggling again with an eating disorder, I didn’t care that I didn’t know the best way to help her: she needed to be helped. Given the opportunity to go back in time, I would have done so many things differently. And that’s exactly why I’m thankful for NEDA’s week of education and outreach efforts.

With 20 million women and 10 million men suffering from “a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life,” it’s likely that you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder.

How to Help a Friend Through an Eating Disorder

If you think your friend is dealing with an eating disorder, here are a few things you can do to help:

+ No Judgments

Being a real friend means no judgments. One of the most important roles you can play in a friend’s recovery is by being a non-wavering support system for him or her. Even something as simple as listening can do wonders.

+ Educate Yourself

I had many assumptions and questions about eating disorders, but I didn’t have any facts. If you want to better understand your friend’s situation, NEDA has information on the types of eating disorders, including signs and symptoms.

+ Get Professional Advice

Unless you’re a medical professional, you’re probably unsure of how to best help your friend. You can find resources at The Parent, Family and Friends Network. You can also contact NEDA’s through their online chat and toll-free services for advice.

If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, please know that recovery is possible. There are resources, which can help you find the help you need.

Name has been substituted to protect subject’s privacy.

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