Eating Disorders: How To Help a Friend in Need

Here at CollegeCandy, we’ve discussed and confronted body issues many-a-times. Whether its about the downfall of too-skinny models, or the recent obsession of using plus-sized models for “contrast”, these articles always incite heated debate. Even posts unrelated to the subject get pulled into the fire!

While we all might not see eye-to-eye in the quest to define the un-definable “perfect body,” we can all agree that college women have some very strong opinions on the subject. Girls our age are the most affected, and most targeted, by a society that thinks Jessica Simpson is fat, so it’s not surprising that the number of girls with eating disorders has been on the rise. New studies have shown that up to 19% of female college students are bulimic and up to 15% of those without eating disorders display patterns of disordered eating.

I’ve had my own battles with anorexia for four years, and have confronted a few friends with their own eating habits (or lack thereof). I’ve been on both sides of the situation and can tell you than it’s not easy confronting a friend from either point of view. So here are a few do’s and don’ts that will help you when you suspect a friend might be in need.

DO: Educate yourself as much as possible beforehand. Talk to a professional, someone at student health services at your university, or a doctor. There are hundreds of helpful resources on the Internet, as well. Just make sure you know what you’re confronting and you’ll be much more comfortable when it comes time to talk.

DON’T: Make accusations. She’ll feel personally attacked and won’t want to listen to what you have to say. Instead of saying things like, “You never eat!”, focus more on how her behavior is affecting your relationship: “You never go out with us anymore, we miss you.” When my friend first tried to talk to me about it, she simply said “Why won’t you eat? You’re being stupid.” It was not pretty after that.

DO: Prepare to be rejected. Girls with eating disorders will not acknowledge that they have one or admit to anyone else that they do. I denied it for two years, and it was only until I passed out at work while ringing up customers that I realized something was wrong. It’s totally normal for her to be very private and guarded about her habits, so try not to pry. If she rejects your help at first…

DON’T: Give up on her. Patience is number one in this situation. Let her know that you genuinely care about her and her well-being and she will eventually start to open up.

DO: Remember that an eating disorder is not a choice. It is a mental disease that goes much deeper than just wanting to be thin. Those affect by an ED will have low self-confidence, self-worth, and a severely distorted body image that “just starting to eat” will not fix. When I started therapy for mine, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with adult ADHD; it only fueled my quest for perfection.

DON’T: Forget to look at your own habits. Think about how often you talk about other girls’ or celebrities’ bodies, or if you complain about gaining a pound or two and “being fat.” A good friend of mine was bulimic her freshman and sophomore year of college because her best friend and roommate would always judge her own body, which made her feel inferior. Once she transferred schools, my friend was able to live without the fear of being judged and made an amazing recovery.

Having an eating disorder is a scary, dangerous thing. It can lead to depression and even suicide. If you know someone who you suspect might have one (you notice drastic changes in eating habits, she starts to become more private, etc) do not assume that it’s just a phase and she’ll get over it. If caught early, eating disorders are easier to treat, so don’t wait until she reaches the 87lb mark to say something.

Recovery is 100% possible if she is willing and if you are supportive. Even after four years, I was able to turn my life around. While I still have some lingering tendencies (it’s hard for me to eat when I’m stressed out, and a slight weight gain irks me), I wouldn’t have made any sort of improvement without the support of my friends and family.

Embrace the Embarrassing
Embrace the Embarrassing
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