National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is February 22-28. All week long, we’re bringing you blog posts specifically on eating disorder awareness and recovery.
Eating disorders are complex mental health issues that have serious physical health implications. No one deals with their eating disorder in the same way, but here are some general tips for being there for a friend.
DO keep inviting them to do things.
A lot of people who struggle with eating disorders have a tendency to isolate themselves, so they’re going to turn down your offer a lot. Keep inviting them. One of these times, they’ll say, “yes,” and that can do a lot of good.
DON’T try to feed them or police their behavior.
It can be hard to watch a friend perform their eating disorder behaviors, but calling them out on it (unless they’ve asked you to) is going to feel like judgment. If you want to keep the door open to conversation, try to avoid policing them.
DO express concern for their health.
It’s important to let them know that you’ve noticed and you’re worried. They may deny that anything is wrong or avoid the issue, but they’re noticing that you care.
DON’T tell them what to do or how to feel.
When you express concern about their eating disorder it’s really important to use “I” statements. Sentences that start with “I feel…” or “I’ve noticed…” are generally good. Sentences that start with “You should…” or “You need…” are generally harmful.
DO continue bringing your own thoughts, ideas, and problems to them.
If you would have talked to your friend about a relationship issue or struggle with a professor or parent before, don’t stop doing that. When you stop coming to them for advice or including them in the daily details of your life, it might indicate to them that you’ve lost faith in them and they may isolate themselves even more.
DO create your own network of people who want to support your friend and each other.
Having a good support network for YOU is really important. It often takes a whole team of folks to get someone the help they need. Rely on each other; and when someone needs a break, ask someone else to step up.
DON’T bring the whole team to talk to your friend.
It might be more comfortable for you when you’re trying to tell someone you’re concerned about how you feel, but it’s going to make them feel awful and teamed up on. If you’re going to talk feelings and impacts, do it one-on-one in a private place where the person you’re concerned about feels comfortable.
DO expect them to be irritable and angry.
It’s not going to happen all of the time, but it’s likely to happen fairly frequently. You need to know that it’s not about you. Often times it’s the eating disorder or an associated disorder (like anxiety, depression, or substance abuse) that’s talking. Remember that your friend loves you–their illness is just preventing them from acting like themselves.
DON’T lose faith in their recovery.
Once your friend decides to seek help, it’s still going to be a long journey. They can do it. Step back when you need to for your own self care, but be consistent in your faith and support. Continue to include them, keep them updated on your life, and don’t make your relationship only about their eating disorder.
DO be honest with them about how little your understand what they’re going through.
You probably don’t know, so don’t fake it. Let them tell you. Ask them about it tactfully. Show you’re open and will do your best to understand.
DON’T try to be perfect.
You just need to be there.
If you or a friend is struggling with an eating disorder, call the NEDA Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.