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Does My Friend Have an Eating Disorder?

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Volume 19, Issue 2

Does My Friend Have an Eating Disorder?

It is estimated that approximately 6% of females and 2.8% of males will deal with an eating disorder during their lifetime. Four out of ten individuals either have struggled with an eating disorder them- selves, or know someone who has.

The age of onset has steadily trended downward and it is estimated that, 2.7% of teens age 13-18 years will exhibit an eating disorder (National Institute of Mental Health). While not all unhealthy weight control behaviors qualify as an eating disorder, up to 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys engage in unhealthy weight control.

What are the Signs of an Eating Disorder?

You have a friend, a child, an acquaintance, that you are concerned for – is he or she suffering from an eating dis- order? Use this checklist to help identify common signs of an eating disorder. These are the most common signs– other signs may be present as well.


  • Counting calories
  • Drug use to control eating or weight gain
  • Rituals around food, rigid eating schedule
  • Vomiting after eating
  • Compulsive or excessive exercise
  • Eating that seems out of control
  • Frequently weighing oneself

Physical signs

  • Menstruation has stopped
  • Throat and dental problems
  • Puffy cheeks
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes
  • Fainting, dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss

Emotional and psychological signs

  • Mood swings
  • Guilt and shame about eating
  • Strong fear of becoming or being fat
  • Low self-esteem
  • Perfectionism

Social signs

  • Frequently eating alone or in secret
  • Avoiding friends
  • Avoiding situations that involve food or eating
  • Strained relationships
  • Difficulty being assertive

How Do I Help?

People with eating disorders often feel trapped in their behaviors. They also may not be aware of the extent to which the disorder has impacted their health and life. Your careful and compassionate confrontation may be the turning point to help your loved one get help.

But before you confront your friend, child or other family member, ask yourself: Do I have good boundaries or do I feel desperate to “make her change her behavior?” If you are comfortable sup- porting your friend while confronting her dangerous behaviors, and without conditioning your relationship on her choices or demanding a particular outcome, you may be ready to help.

Take Action

Make your conversation with your friend a “carefrontation”– not a confrontation. Remember that above all, your motivation stems from your care for them. Before you broach the subject with your friend or loved one:

  • Take the time to educate yourself on eating disorders and what services are available to help someone recover.
  • Write out ahead of time the specific behaviors and signs you have noticed that give you cause for concern.
  • Consider whether to include someone else in your conversation with your friend or loved one. When you speak with your friend, re- member to:

Listen first. Your friend’s trust depends on feeling heard.

  • Be empathetic. Try to understand the situation from your friend’s perspective. You don’t have to agree, but empathy allows you to not pass judgment or increase your friend’s sense of shame.
  • Be patient. Stay supportive. Recovery from eating disorders is a slow process that involves both progress and relapse.
  • Focus on specific behaviors (from the list you prepared ahead of time), not their personal characteristics.
  • Use “I statements” to convey your thoughts, feelings, concerns. “I am worried about you.” “I heard you throwing up last night again.” “I have noticed that you are thinner now than just a couple months ago.” This reduces your friend’s defensiveness as you speak with her.
  • Ask your friend how you can help. She may decline an offer of assistance, or be unable to express her needs, so be prepared to offer up some options.


Make your conversation with your friend a “carefrontation”– not a confrontation. Remember that above all, your motivation stems from your care for them.

Recognize your Limits

This is probably the most important part of being helpful to a friend or family member with an eating disorder. You do not have the power to make your friend change or control how your friend will respond. But you do have the power to:

  • Be supportive, genuinely compassionate.
  • Decide how you will express your concerns.
  • Decide how much time and effort you can expend in helping your friend.
  • Become educated about eating disorders, the recovery process and treatment options.
  • Be aware of your own needs and how to meet them.
  • Maintain healthy boundaries.
  • Get guidance and support for yourself as you help your friend.

Seek guidance and support from a professional counselor. Discussing your concerns with the caring professionals at PAS is a great first step in helping you to help your friend or loved one.

Featured Service: Health Coaching

If you or a loved one has a health concern and wants to improve the quality of life, caring PAS health coaches offer education and support to help:

  • Make lifestyle changes to adapt to health concerns or improve your health
  • Use nutrition and exercise to improve your overall wellness
  • Learn ways to effectively communicate with health care providers
  • Know what questions to ask when going to the doctor
  • Find answers to questions regarding diagnoses, testing, medications, and procedures
  • Learn ways to live well with an illness and slow its progression
  • Support a loved one dealing with their health concern

About Your EAP

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a benefit set up by your employer to assist you in dealing with personal concerns that may affect your work or home life. Use of the EAP is confidential and free to you and your immediate family members. Visit our website for more information: https://www.paseap.com

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

A Service of Your EAP (800) 356-0845

PASWord Express © 2016 is published by Personal Assistance Services, 9735 Landmark Parkway, Suite 17, St. Louis, MO, 63127-9968 (800) 356-0845. Material may not be reproduced without written permission.