International Women's Friendship Month: Knowing How to Help a Friend With An Eating Disoder
September is International Women's Friendship Month, a time when women should be celebrating the sisterly bond that they share.
However, this sisterly bond can also come with great responsibilities, such as helping a friend with an eating disorder.
Where to Start
When trying to help out a friend who struggles with an eating disorder the first thing you should do is get informed on the condition. There are many organizations, books, websites, hotlines, or other resources devoted to helping people who are battling eating disorders. Learn the difference between facts and myths about eating disorders, weight, nutrition, and exercise. Share what you've learn with your friend if she is open to it, but try to avoid trying to lecture her.
Opening Up a Dialogue
When trying to approach your friend about your concerns make sure that you do so privately. Be as gentle as possible, and explain that you are worried. Listen to your friend and be supportive about what your friend is going through. Asking simple questions like "How can I help?" shows you can listen and be supportive without judging her.
Avoid being too watchful of your friend's eating habits, food amounts, and choices. Although you may want to try to get a friend to eat more, this can do more harm than good. Eating disorders are complicated and it often does no good to try and force food on your friend.
Changing Your Attitude
Often we are unaware of our true influence on people's lives even when we are fairly close to someone. Comments we believe to be harmless, could be very hurtful or influential in someone else's life. The following are things you should avoid around those struggling with eating disorders or body image issues:
- Praising or glorifying someone's appearance based on body size or attractiveness
- Complementing someone when they lose weight or are on a diet
- Encouraging someone to lose weight
- Talking negatively about your bodies
- Discussing measurements, weight or clothing sizes
- Saying someone is “healthy” because they are thin
- Expecting perfection
- Pushing more exercise than necessary
- Assuming that an overweight person wants or needs to lose weight
- Reinforcing the media's idea of what body type is “in”
Know Your Limits
People with eating disorders often have trouble admitting that they have a problem and may feel defensive about it. It's important to not get angry or frustrated with your friend's behavior. Being concerned and trying to help is part of a good friendship, but don't take it upon yourself to “fix” your friend.
One of the best things you can do is to offer your shoulder to cry on, but if you'd like to do more you can also offer to go with your friend to a support group. Letting your friend know that you are willing to be there when she tries to reach out to a parent, husband, boyfriend, therapist or counselor can really help to give her the courage she needs to get the help she needs.
Source: NationalEatingDisorders.org & Columbia.edu