Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

How to Help A Friend Who May Be Struggling With An Eating Disorder

If you are worried about your friend's eating behaviors or attitudes, then it is important to discuss your worries early on, rather than waiting until your friend has endured many of the damaging physical and emotional effects of his/her eating disorder.

What to Say, Step by Step:

  • Set a time to talk. Set aside a time for a private, respectful meeting with your friend to discuss your concerns openly and honestly in a caring, supportive way. Make sure you will be someplace away from other distractions.
  • Communicate your concerns. Point out a few behavioral instances that indicate to you that you should be concerned about your friend’s health, happiness, and safety. Share your memories of two or three specific times when you felt concerned, afraid, or uneasy because of her eating rituals. Talk about the feelings you experienced as a result of these events.

***Try to do this in a very supportive, non-confrontational way.

Here are three suggestions:

  • Use "I" statements. For example: "I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch." or "It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting."
  • Avoid accusational "You" statements. For example: "You have to eat something!" " You must be crazy!" or "You’re out of control!"
  • Avoid giving simple solutions. For example: "If you’d just stop, everything would be fine!"

Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional attention.

  • Ask your friend to explore these concerns with a counselor, doctor, nutritionist, or any health professional she feels comfortable enough to see. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer to accompany your friend on her first visit.
  • Avoid conflicts or a battle of the wills with your friend. If she refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem or any reason for you to be concerned, re-state your feelings and the reasons for them and leave yourself open and available as a supportive listener.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on your friend for her actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory "you" statements like, "You just need to eat," or "You are acting irresponsibly."
  • Express your continued support for your friend. Let her know that you care about her and that you want her to be healthy and happy with herself.
  • After talking with your friend, if you are still concerned for her safety and health, find a trusted adult or medical professional to talk to. This is probably a challenging and difficult time for both of you. It could be helpful for you, as well as your friend, to discuss your concerns and seek assistance and support from a professional.

If your friend has become obsessed with eating, exercising, or dieting, she probably needs professional help. Your friend may be angry that you are questioning her attitudes and behaviors. Your friend may deny that there is a problem. If your friend won’t listen to your concerns, you may need to tell someone else -- someone who can help. Consider talking to your friend’s parents, a teacher, a doctor, a counselor, a nutritionist, or any trusted adult. Your friend needs as much support and understanding as possible from the people in her life.

Remember: You cannot force someone to seek help, change their habits, or adjust their attitudes. You will make important progress in honestly sharing your concerns, providing support, and knowing where to go for more information! People struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder do need professional help.

There is help available, and there is hope!

Source: National Eating Disorders Association;


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