Self-Help Information: How to Help a Friend with an Eating Disorder
If you and others have observed behaviors in your friend or roommate
that are suggestive of an eating disorder, you are in a position to help.
Make a plan to approach the person in a private place when
there is time to talk and no immediate stress is present.
Present what you have observed and what your concerns are
in a caring but straightforward way. Tell him or her that you
are worried and want to help. (Friends who are too angry with
the person to talk supportively should not be a part of this
Give the person time to talk and encourage them to express
their feelings. Ask clarifying questions. Listen carefully;
accept what is said in a non-judgmental manner.
Do not argue about whether there is or is not a problem –
power struggles are not helpful. Perhaps you can say, "I hear
what you are saying and I hope you are right that this is not a
problem. But I am still very worried about what I have seen and
heard, and that is not going to go away."
Provide information about resources for treatment. Offer to
go with the person and wait while they have their first
appointment with a counselor, doctor, or nutritionist. Ask them
to consider going for one appointment before they make a
decision about ongoing treatment.
If you are concerned that the eating disorder is severe or
life threatening, enlist the help of a doctor, therapist,
counseling center, relative, friend, or roommate of the person
before you intervene. Present a united and supportive front with
If the person denies the problem, becomes angry, or refuses
treatment, understand that this is often part of the illness.
Besides, they have a right to refuse treatment (unless their
life is in danger). You may feel helpless, angry, and frustrated
with them. You might say, "I know you can refuse to go for help,
but that will not stop me from worrying about you or caring
about you. I may bring this up again to you later, and maybe we
can talk more about it then." Follow through on that – and on
any other promise you make.
Do not try to be a hero or a rescuer; you will probably be
resented. If you do the best you can to help on several
occasions and the person does not accept it, stop. Remind
yourself you have done all it is reasonable to do. Eating
disorders are stubborn problems, and treatment is most effective
when the person is truly ready for it. You may have planted a
seed that helps them get ready.
Eating disorders are usually not emergency situations. But,
if the person is suicidal or otherwise in serious danger, get
professional help immediately!
(The above material was adapted from material produced by Dr.
Herrin, Dr. Fishman, and Eating Disorder and Prevention, Inc.)
Need Additional Help?
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these
and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY).
For more information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:
Donna J. Scott, PhD
The information contained in these self help
documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care. Neither
the authors, Washington State University nor the College of Veterinary
Medicine assume liability for injury incurred by following the information
presented in these self-help documents