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How to Talk to a Friend

Approaching someone you believe may be struggling with an eating disorder

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Updated February 14, 2012

How to Talk to a Friend

Worrying about someone you know?

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Approaching someone you think may have an eating disorder is never an easy thing. However, it is important not to ignore symptoms of eating disorders, as they can become more serious and more difficult to treat the longer the person goes without help. Consider the following suggestions as you consider the best way to approach someone you care about.

Gather your information. Read all you can about eating disorders and find out about treatment options in your area. By learning about the eating disorder, you may be better able to connect with and support your loved one.

Choose the right time and place. Waiting until the right opportunity to talk about the eating disorder may sound like a really good idea. However, it may also take some planning on your part to make this happen. Choose a time when stress is low. During meals or immediately before or after meals are times to avoid. You may also want to consider other stressors that are going on in his or her life. Choosing the night before a big exam, for example, may not result in the conversation you would like to have. The location of your conversation can be as important as the time. Choose a place where your friend will feel comfortable talking to you. This may mean a quiet coffee shop, a park bench or at home.

Convey support and concern, not judgment. Think about how you would like to word your concerns before your conversation, and choose your words carefully. Avoid using words like "always" or "never." Saying "You always make excuses" or "You never eat" is likely to put your friend on the defensive and is unlikely to have a positive result. Similarly, the questions "Why won't you just eat?" or "Why can't you just stop?" are also unhelpful.

Instead, use specific examples of symptoms that you have noticed. For example, "I've noticed that you've lost weight recently" or "I've noticed that you frequently go to the bathroom immediately after meals" are statements of things that are observable.

Remember to talk about what your experience is of the situation. "I am scared/worried that you are sick and I would like to help you get treatment" conveys more concern and support than, "You just need to eat more."

Have next steps in mind. If the conversation goes well and your friend is able to listen to your concerns, you will want to be prepared with information to take the next steps toward treatment. This may include having the phone number or website of a local therapist, dietician or treatment center that can assess your friend. It may also be a willingness to help your friend make phone calls for an appointment or even accompanying him or her to an initial appointment.

Be prepared for rejection. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, not every person will be willing to seek assessment and treatment after a conversation with a friend. At this point you will want to keep the lines of communication open and let your friend know that you are available should they ever change their mind about seeking treatment. You may also want to consider talking with others (friends or family members) who are close to your friend. Although you do not want to "gang up" on your friend, someone who is closer may be able to better connect and persuade him or her to seek treatment.

If your friend is a minor, talk with his or her parents. Even if your friend does not want to acknowledge the eating disorder, parents can make appointments on their child's behalf and get your friend the help that he or she needs.

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