If you are worried about your friend’s eating disorder lifestyle, it’s important to express your concerns in a caring, supportive way. The earlier you talk to your friend, the better. Find a quiet, private setting and be simple and honest with your words and feelings. Share specific behaviors you’ve observed in your friend that lead you to believe he/she has an eating disorder.
- Timing is important: Pick a time that’s convenience for both of you. Find a quiet, private place where distractions are absent. This could be in an empty classroom, a tree house, car, front porch, back alley, restaurant booth, kitchen, in a vacant school hallway next to a locker, etc.
- Come straight out with it: Share observations of your friend that lead you to believe he/she struggles with an eating disorder. Don’t “beat around the bush”; just come out and say it honestly and politely.
- No need to argue: If your friend denies he/she has an eating disorder, or tells you that you’re crazy for thinking so, don’t argue. This is the time to use your best nonjudgmental listening skills. Be supportive but don’t apologize for how you think and feel.
- Use “I” language: Acknowledge your concerns from your point of view using “I” statements. This keeps the tone nonjudgmental and respectful. Say, “I noticed you’ve been skipping meals lately” or “I am concerned that all this exercise you’re doing is hurting your body” or “I feel scared when I hear you vomit.” Do not say, “You are acting so weird” or “Why don’t you just eat?” or “You should be ashamed of yourself” or “You should just stop all this dieting” or “You should…”
- Avoid lecturing or offering simple solutions: Whenever you let your emotions steer the ship of what you say, you run the risk of sounding judgmental and controlling. This leads to you giving simple solutions for a complex issue. Fore example, “If you just start eating again, you’ll be okay,” or “You need to talk to someone right now or you could die!”
- Express continued support: Offer to go with your friend to talk to a loving adult or professional who works with eating disorders. If they refuse to go, ask with whom they’d be comfortable talking to.
- Follow up: Check in with your friend occasionally to see how they’re doing. Don’t badger, plead, beg, bribe, or threaten them to get help. It’s their issue to be responsible for, not yours. Your best course of action is to stay by their side as a friend and be encouraging and supportive.
- After talking with your friend, if you’re still concerned with seeing your friend struggle and “just wish you could do something,” find a trusted adult, counselor, or medical professional who knows about eating disorders. This is a way to take care of yourself, and sets a good example for your friend. Remember, you are not responsible FOR your friend’s illness, to change them, or to make them feel better. That’s their task. However, you can be responsible TO them by setting a good example with your good listening and encouraging words. You may find that you wish you could do more, but simply being a good friend can do wonders.