Many people who have eating disorders deny that they have a problem. Sometimes it can take a year or longer before they (and their families) realize that they need serious medical attention. Even if your friend isn't ready to talk about her problem, you can still help her. Here are a few ideas from health care professionals who know about eating disorders.
- When you are ready to talk to your friend, find a private place and a good time. Talk in person, rather than on the telephone—it will be easier to be honest with each other if you talk face-to-face. Make sure it's not between classes or before a big test. Feeling distracted or rushed could make it harder for both of you to talk, and it may even give her an excuse to avoid what you are saying.
Tell your friend why you are worried and that you want to help. Give her some specific examples of the things you are worried about. Be careful not to sound like you are criticizing your friend. For instance, instead of saying something like, "You are too thin," you might say "You always go to the bathroom right after meals, and sometimes I can smell vomit in there."
- Be direct, but caring. Try not to judge her because that will make it much harder for her to share her feelings with you. People with eating disorders are very good at hiding their problems, so it may be hard for your friend to admit her "secret." She probably already feels guilty and ashamed of the way she's acting.
After you have told your friend your worries, give her a chance to talk. Listen carefully. If she does not think there is a problem, you can tell her that you hope that she is right, but that you are still worried.
- Talk to an adult you trust—a parent, an aunt, an older friend or sister, a teacher, a school counselor, a coach, or the school nurse. They can give you support and might be able to give you the names of people and places where your friend can go for help. It is important for your friend to get professional attention, so don't hesitate to ask an adult for information.
- If you do give your friend some ideas about where to go for help, offer to go with her to the first appointment. That may sound like a simple thing, but it will be difficult for your friend to do this on her own.
- If you think your friend is suicidal or might be in some kind of immediate danger, ask an adult for help immediately.
- Remember that you can't solve your friend's problem for her or make her get help. Even if she acts like she's not listening to you, she may just need time to think about the things you've said. If she's not ready to talk, try to back off for a while instead of getting into an argument. Tell her she can talk to you anytime, about anything. If your friend is not willing to get help right now, she might be ready later on. Your concern could help her get ready to accept help.
- Tell your friend about the Eating Disorders articles on this Web site: iEmily.com. It might be easier for her to read about eating disorders on her own. You might also want to mention our Hotlines page, which tells girls where to go for help in an emergency.> back to top