Learning to talk to your friend about her eating disorder is surely no easy task. I understand it might be something you put off and avoid altogether. Yet, you probably have a great bit of concern and want to help, but have no idea what to say. As someone who’s had an eating disorder, let me help you out with what works, and what doesn’t. I promise, though your friend might throw up defenses at first, she will appreciate you caring enough to talk to your friend about her eating disorder. Just remember these tips and try some simple, yet effective ways to talk to your friend without losing her friendship.
1. Don’t Judge
First of all, when finding ways to talk to your friend about her eating disorder, don’t talk in a form of judgment and use words like “shouldn’t,” “don’t,” “wrong,” etc. This will make her throw up defenses faster than most anything else. Instead, offer your ear. Talk to her openly and tell her you want to understand what’s bothering her, and why she has a hard time eating, eating with others, or uses food to numb her. Perhaps even share with her a struggle you have with food, if any. These are all ways to offer nonjudgmental words of caring and concern that won’t make her defensive.
2. Do It at the Right Time
Don’t talk to your friend at the dinner table, anytime you’re out shopping, or especially when in public like at school, work, etc. Wait until it’s just you and her, and preferably somewhere quiet. No one likes to be confronted about such serious issues in public.
3. Don’t Parent
Don’t try to talk to your friend like you’re her parent or don’t have struggles yourself. It won’t get you anywhere, and might make her feel more alone, making the issue worse. Instead, talk to her like you would about anything else you know is bothering her, like boys, her parents, etc. This will make her feel less strange and she might be more apt to talk to you.
4. Do Your Research
Before you criticize anything about her disorder, do your research. You’ll learn so much from helpful sites about eating disorders and learn that much of her disorder has nothing to do with food at all. You will also gain helpful tips to look for signs and symptoms, and learn how eating disorders differ. Don’t cut your friend or yourself short. Do your research and visit The National Eating Disorders Association's website at nationaleatingdisorders.org.
5. Be Prepared
You need to be prepared that your friend will most likely ignore, deny, and get angry when you confront her disorder. It’s part of her disorder, in fact. It feels threatened, and is her safety mechanism, and another actual part of her you can’t just take away with one talk. Be prepared and know these things firsthand so they don’t catch you off guard.
6. Give It Time
Understand that your friend’s going to deny things to herself for quite awhile, and probably not change for months, even years. Some women never recover. This doesn’t mean you should give up trying, but you should give it time. Give her and yourself time to adapt to the situation, and let her think on it. Then, just treat her like normal in the process.
7. Don’t Act Strange
Another tip you should remember, don’t act strange around her after you talk to her. It will make her feel alone, and make her disorder deepen. Part of the draw of an eating disorder is that it accepts you when no one else does. Don’t make her feel strange and continue being her friend just as you were before.
8. Buy Her a Book
This is one thing that really helped me. I read Portia de Rossi’s book, Unbearable Lightness, at a time I was in denial about my disorder, but fascinated with her story. This famous actress overcame an eating disorder and has, to date, authored my favorite book ever written on a healthy, true recovery. My mom bought it for me, and I still credit that book to me accepting my disorder, and wanting to embrace recovery. Even if you don’t buy that book, consider buying her some type of inspiring story, and just leaving it for her. Don’t ask her if she’s read it, because more than likely she will. Just give it to her as a way to say you love her and tell her you’re not buying it for her to make her feel strange. Even read it yourself first so you’ll understand things better, and then tell her how awesome it was and pass it on. You can find Unbearable Lightness at any bookstore or retailer, online or off.
9. Food Normalcy
Most importantly, anytime you are both around food or you’re eating, don’t look at her food strangely or mention anything about her disorder. This will make her so insecure about eating around you, she might stop. It might also make her feel ashamed and associate that shame with food. Eating disorders are a disease. Don’t try to understand them to their full extent, just be aware of how they work. Treat her like normal, and just let her be. Don’t give up talking to her at another time, but for the moment, just allow her to enjoy food with you as she normally would.
10. Enlist Some Professional Help
If you’re really concerned that she’s at a deathly stage of her disorder, you might even want to enlist some professional help. Consider talking to a counselor, whether at school, or in the community. The last thing you want is for something to happen to your friend.
11. Don’t Give up
Lastly, don’t give up on her, or trying to help her. Just be there for her and continue to talk to her every now and then. Don’t turn your back on her though, or you’ll lose her, and she’ll dive deeper into the world of her disorder.
If your friend has an eating disorder, I advise you to visit the NEDA website immediately and learn everything you can. I hope these tips have helped you, but if you need more information from a personal view, feel free to visit my website, The Soulful Spoon, which is my blog about recovery. I also prioritize healthy eating as a way I healed my relationship with food, and like posting recipes, tips, and recovery posts that I am living and using at the time. Do you have a friend with an eating disorder? Have you learned any helpful ways to talk to her that might help the rest of us?