Grab The Meic – How Do I Help A Friend With An Eating Disorder?
Suzie is worried about her friend and her eating habits and wants to know the best way to support her whilst avoiding doing something that might make it worse. She contacted Grab the Meic for advice.
Grab the Meic is your opportunity to ask us about anything that’s worrying you. We’re here to listen and give advice. If you want to #grabthemeic then check out this page, but remember this advice is not instant. If you need advice quickly then please contact the helpline.
This article is also available in Welsh – I ddarllen y cynnwys yma yn Gymraeg – clicia yma
I have this friend who has an eating disorder. I have asked what one she has so I don’t make her uncomfortable, but she said that there was no name for hers. Some days she won’t eat anything, others she will only eat junk, and then some days she will eat normally. However, sometimes the days when she doesn’t eat much can last for weeks on end, and it worries me.
I know that making someone with an eating disorder eat can be bad for them, but sometimes I get so worried that I want to make her eat. On those days I will usually buy her some chocolate or something small I know she likes and tell her if she wants or needs something to eat she can take it. Sometimes she doesn’t and it really worries me because I don’t know if I can help in any way.
Is there anything that I can do to help without making her situation worse?
(*name changed to protect their identity)
Thanks for contacting Meic and telling us about your concerns. It’s natural for you to worry because eating disorders can lead to serious illness if left untreated. It can have a big impact on someone’s quality of life. Friends and family can be affected as they try to help their loved ones.
Over a million people suffer from an eating disorder in the UK*.
Figuring out how to help
It sounds like you’re very keen on supporting your friend the best you can, and you want to find the best way of doing this. You said that you knew that trying to make someone eat when they have an eating disorder may not be the best idea. Still, you were so worried about your friend that you bought her food sometimes and tried to encourage her to eat it. Your intentions are good, but you are right, trying to pressure someone with an eating disorder into eating something is not a good idea (or stopping someone from eating, if that’s their issue). Doing this could worsen the situation, and it could negatively impact their relationship with food, and with you as a friend.
You might feel worried and desperate when you see someone you love having a challenging relationship with food. The best way that you can support them is to give them the space to make their own decisions.
Health concerns with eating disorders
Eating disorders can be really serious for someone’s health if left untreated. In the most extreme cases, it can even be fatal. Everyone with an eating disorder is different, but keep an eye out for these signs:
- They look very ill
- Say their heart is racing
- Complaining of stomach pain
- Showing signs of nausea (feeling sick) or throwing up
If you notice any of these signs, then seek medical help as soon as possible, and explain that your friend has an eating disorder.
Getting support for an eating disorder
Has your friend spoken with anybody about this with anyone other than you? If she hasn’t, it’s unlikely that she’s getting any professional support yet.
Having an eating disorder is distressing for the sufferer and for those that care for them. She might not know the best way to manage her illness or what help is available. There is lots of great professional support available for people suffering from an eating disorder. If you’re worried about your friend, you must encourage her to seek treatment as soon as possible to ensure the best chance of recovery. Gently encourage her to talk to her GP or another adult she trusts who could help her take the first step towards recovery. If your friend isn’t sure how to approach someone, then show her our blog, How To Start A Conversation To Share A Problem.
Supporting your friend
A good way of helping your friend is to learn more about eating disorders and how best to support someone who suffers. Beat, the national eating disorder charity, has excellent information, advice and support for sufferers, and those who care about them. They also run a helpline, open every day, to speak to a trained adviser for information and advice.
You are helping your friend a lot by just being there for her and listening. Being a good friend is an incredibly supportive role, and you are helping by just being there for her on her journey as much as you can. Make sure that you look after yourself too. Your health and well-being are really important to be able to keep supporting your friend. If you need to take some time out from that supportive role to take care of yourself, that’s perfectly ok, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Taking care of yourself means that you’ll be in a good place to support your friend better.
Don’t be disheartened
It’s tough to be supportive if the person doesn’t seem to want to listen to your advice and support. This is not down to you. Your friend must be ready to decide to seek recovery and professional help for herself. You are doing your best by simply being there for her, prepared to listen, support and be a good friend.
If you need to talk to a friendly adviser about this, or about anything else that’s bothering you, then Meic is someone on your side, every day, on the phone, text message or online chat (details below). Meic is a helpline for children and young people up to age 25, offering free and confidential information, advice and support.