How do you discuss a possible eating disorder with the friend it is affecting? It takes compassion, knowledge, and courage. The following tips will help you prepare for this important type of conversation and hopefully lead to your friend seeking assistance.
1. Pick the right place to talk
Set a date to meet, but postpone it if either of you feel tired or upset. Select a location that encourages private, calm conversation. Aim for a relaxed, food-free atmosphere so there are no distractions. The freedom to speak honestly reinforces the importance of your discussion about eating disorders. Your friend may feel more comfortable at home or outdoors at the park. A friendly environment encourages communication.
2. Act quickly
You care for your friend and understand the seriousness of an eating disorder. There is no need to wait until your friend is sick to talk about the problems you’ve noticed. Do an online search or talk to a professional about the dangers and signs of eating disorders. Then prepare the way you want to approach your friend to motivate the desire for help.
3. Explain your concern
Be supportive by approaching the topic in a friendly, loving manner. Think ahead about what you want to say. You don’t want the words to cause your friend to feel ashamed about what you’ve noticed. Don’t let your concern about unhealthy eating habits cause your tone or words to sound like criticism.
4. Do not suggest wrongdoing
Keep the conversation friendly by explaining different actions that make you concerned. Avoid statements that cause feelings of guilt, such as “You are scaring me.” Tell your friend “I care about your health”. They will know you have noticed something that may cause them harm. It may make them more receptive to admitting they have an eating disorder and seeking help for it.
5. Organize your thoughts
Plan what you are going to say ahead of time. Express yourself in a way that lets your friend know you’ve given a lot of thought to the conversation. Give examples of what’s happened to cause concern over your friend’s eating patterns. Include the reasons you think professionals can help identify the causes and offer solutions. Listen to your friend to get an idea of what’s bothering them. They may express feelings that you don’t understand. Try to avoid interrupting them until they complete the conversation. They will appreciate your patience. Knowing you are not finding fault with them will make them feel more comfortable about talking to you.
6. Stay positive
Keep your emotions in check. Your friend may deny that anything is wrong and resent your concern. Explain the reasons for your concern once again. Shouting or insisting they listen only causes them to withdraw and refuse to listen. Let your friend know you are ready to listen and help when they choose to confide in you. The safe environment you display adds to their ability to tell you how they feel. They may even share what they consider to be the problem. Listen and take mental notes of what they say. It will help you plan an approach for the next conversation.
7. Avoid blame
Platitudes do more harm than good. Your friend needs more than a well-intended comment that quitting harmful actions will end the problem. Don’t make them feel guilty about the situation. It could be they don’t recognize they have an eating disorder. Embarrassment or concern may cause them to deny there is anything wrong. Be prepared for that reaction. Tell your friend how much you care. Assure him or her that they are important to you and you want them to be healthy.
8. Suggest ways to find help
You may still worry after talking with your friend. If the suspected eating disorder continues, talk it over with someone you trust. An adult, hot line, or your own doctor may offer suggestions. Talk about your concerns and ask about other ways to encourage your friend to seek help.
9. You care and you’re there
Suggest that your friend consult a professional about the situation. A nutritionist, counselor, or primary care physician can help treat the eating disorder. They will also help find the cause. Remember that your friend feels uncomfortable about the situation. It will likely be difficult for them to discuss behavior and feelings. Encourage them to take the step to wellness. Offer to help set an appointment or take them for the first visit. Reinforce the fact that you care enough to see them through the healing process.