Relationships in college can be intense. Live closely enough with someone, for long enough, and you will get a good look at who they are. If they struggle with an addiction or have an eating disorder, you will eventually see it. You can be instrumental in helping a friend with an eating disorder
If you are concerned your friend or roommate could be diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, your first step to help is to get educated. Learning more about the signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder will increase your knowledge and confidence before talking with your friend.
Additionally, keep these three ideas in mind:
- Expect resistance
- Compassionately share how your life is impacted
- Offer to accompany them as they seek help
At best, your friend will feel torn about giving up the eating disorder behaviors. Comedian Russell Brand (who has recovered from multiple addictions and an eating disorder) writes in his book, Recovery; Freedom From Our Addictions, “For better or worse I had devised a strategy for survival, a means of coping with my feelings and I was terrified of what I might find if I relinquished it .”
While compulsive behaviors may not make sense on the surface underneath, they are ways of feeling safe, powerful, or dealing with pain. Giving these up will feel frightening. Don’t underestimate the amount of courage your friend will need to seek help.
Gently Share How You Are Being Impacted
Sharing how someone else is impacting you may sound manipulative. However, when done with compassion, it can help an individual see that he or she needs to make a change. I suggest saying something like, “I feel scared (worried, afraid, upset, etc.) when I see you (always checking your weight, skipping meals, etc.).
Using the pattern of “I feel…when you” communicates your concern without assuming their motives.
Be specific in your feedback. For example, “I feel worried when you go to the bathroom after every meal. Are you struggling with food or body image?”
Remember, the reason you are sharing how you are impacted is NOT to make them feel guilty, but to help them see through their denial.
When Helping a Friend Offer to be With Them As They Seek Help
Jenni Schaefer, in her landmark book, Life Without Ed, states, “I did not even come close to changing my eating disorder behaviors on my own .” Neither will your friend. Your willingness to be with them when they make a difficult call to ask for help or go with them to the student health center can make all the difference in the world.
References: Brand, R. (2018). Recovery: freedom from our addictions. New York, NY: Picador. p 52.
 Schaefer, J., & Rutledge, T. (2014). Life without Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education. p 17.
About the Author:
Travis Stewart, LPC has been mentoring others since 1992 and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 2005. His counseling approach is relational and creative, helping people understand their story while also building hope for the future. Travis has experience with a wide variety of issues which might lead people to seek out professional counseling help. This includes special interest in helping those with compulsive and addictive behaviors such as internet and screen addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Specifically, he has worked with eating disorders since 2003 and has learned from many of the field’s leading experts. He has worked with hundreds of individuals facing life-threatening eating disorders in all levels of treatment.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published September 24, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on September 24, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC