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Eating disorders: How to help a friend

By BzAimee 03 Mar 2016

Whether you've spotted a few warning signs or you know that a friend is struggling, sometimes it's hard to know what to do.

According to Beat, 725,000 people in the UK have been affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives, with numbers increasing by about 7% each year.

And this doesn't just affect women, it's thought that at least 10% of those diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder are men.

This is why we have National Eating Disorder Awareness Week beginning the 22nd February, to raise awareness on eating disorders, and show how you can be a factor in someone's recovery.

It's not easy to watch someone you care about damage his or her health when the solution seems so simple. 

Most of the time the person struggling just needs to know that if they want to talk about their issue they can, and where you might not be the cure, you might be one factor contributing to their road to recovery.

Here are some steps to take if you don't know where to start:

  1. Educate yourself
    Researching the issue will help you understand what's going on and how you can support them - Beat (beating eating disorders) is a good place to start. Watch this video to find out the stages your friend will go through.
  2. Focus on feelings & relationships
    Saying "tell me how you're feeling, I'll probably understand more than you think" puts you on your friend's level and is less intimidating than asking "what's up". Share memories of times you've felt concerned and why you think they might need help.
  3. Let them vent
    Offering a solution will add unnecessary pressure. Let your friend know they can reach out to you and ask, "how can I support you?". Talking in a quiet, comfortable place will make it easier for them to open up.
  4. Time to do something?
    If their behaviour persists tell them why you're worried. "I" phrases like "I feel like you might be in trouble" or "it makes me afraid" avoids putting blame on them. Say what you'd like them to do (e.g. see a GP) & offer to go with them.
  5. Hearing but not listening
    If the situation persists it might be time to bring in another party. Just be sure to tell them, "I really care about you, so I'm going to contact your...mum? GP?"
  6. Don't give a time limit
    Be in it for the long haul, or not at all. If your friend is taking longer than you thought to recover, keep confident that they will overcome this, and ask them how much they want you involved. 
  7. Be encouraging
    Stay upbeat and do things to take their mind away from the problem. Watch a film, go for a walk? A breath of fresh air might be a nice momentary relief if nothing else. But if they resist, don't push it.
  8. Get support
    Supporting someone can be hard. Make sure you're taking care of your own wellbeing first and surround yourself with friends so you can give the best support you can.

It's difficult to bring up such a delicate subject but don’t let this keep you from voicing your concern; your friend might be struggling as much as you are to kickstart the conversation. 

Learn more about eating disorders and how to beat them.

Want to talk? 

Remember you can always speak to your Wellbeing Peer if you are feeling down or you are worried about a friend. Get in contact by emailing (please reference your hall in the subject line). 

Please be reassured that everything you discuss will be dealt with confidentially and sensitively.

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