Concerned That My Friend Has An Eating Disorder

Published: April 29, 2013
Dear Concerned That My Friend Has An Eating Disorder,

My friend recently told me about her eating disorder. She says she is scared to eat and that she needs to be skinny. Shes not fat. Shes around 1 and shes 14. I really need to help her. She wont tell her therapist. Also, she has anxiety. She told me she weighs about 130 pounds, but I think she might be exaggerating a bit. What can I do? Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned That My Friend Has An Eating Disorder,

TeenHealthFX can appreciate your concern. Eating disorders are serious problems that can negatively impact a person’s physical and emotional well-being.

FX suggests that you find a time when you can speak to your friend about your concerns in privacy and without interruption. And remember to try and stay as patient, calm and understanding as possible as you talk to her about this. As you talk to her, consider the following:

  • Start off by telling your friend that you are very worried that she has an eating disorder but that she is not talking to her therapist about it.
  • Find out how much of a problem your friend sees this as being that she is scared to eat and needs to be skinny. And then see if you can get a better understanding of why she doesn’t want to talk to her therapist about it.
  • Ask your friend if there is anything you can do to be helpful to her. Just keep in mind that there are limits to what you can do. While it is a wonderful thing to be a supportive friend, it is important not to take this on as your problem to fix.   
  • Tell your friend that you are very concerned about what is going on with her, and whether she does it for herself or whether she does it for you, you would like her to make a commitment to discussing this problem with her therapist.
  • Tell your friend what you like about her and what you see as your strengths. And let her know that you believe she can use her strengths to get through this, as hard as it might feel right now.
  • If your friend won’t talk to her therapist about this and you continue to be concerned, then it is important for you to tell a trusted adult who can intervene on your friend’s behalf. You can talk to your parents, a counselor at school, or even your friend’s parents depending on your relationship with them. Your friend might feel angry at your for talking to someone else about this, but part of being a good friend is doing whatever you can to help rather than standing by and watching them be self-destructive in some way and doing nothing.
  • While it might be tempting as a friend to address the behaviors connected to the eating disorder when you see them (keeping track of what they eat, when they eat, how much they exercise, etc.), it usually ends up being perceived as judgmental and/or lecturing – so try not to keep tabs on everything your friend does when it comes to her eating. There are complicated emotional issues underlying eating disorders, so rather than keeping tabs on these specific behaviors, if you are concerned let her know about your concern and reiterate that you think she needs professional help with this. And, again, if she doesn’t get the help she needs, talk to a trusted adult about it.

You could also offer the following resources to your friend:

You can also offer her the following referral sources:

  • If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.
  • If you live in New Jersey, you can contact the Eating Disorders Program at Atlantic Health at 908-522-5757 for more information and to set up an evaluation. Outside of New Jersey you can contact the National Eating Disorders Association at 1-800-931-2237 for more information and referral services.