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Eating Disorders: Helping a Friend 

Talking to a friend about suspected eating problems is difficult to do, but is something that a true friend would do. Here are some guidelines to assist friends in this process.

Before:

  • Decide upon one or two caring individuals who will approach the person you are concerned about. Close, trusted friends or family members are usually best. This individual(s) should be prepared to encourage the person to seek further help with a trained mental health professional (see Resources below).
  • The individual(s) chosen should also convey a sensible attitude concerning weight-related issues and a healthy, realistic approach to eating and exercise.
  • Establish a private, safe environment.
  • Consider rehearsing what will be said.


During:

  • Start by letting the person know you are reading and learning about eating disorders.
  • Next, express your concerns in a straightforward, yet caring manner. Share two or three specific examples/times when you felt afraid or uneasy. Use an “I” message format:
    • Example: I noticed you’ve been avoiding meals with us lately. I wonder if we could talk about that?
    • Example: “I feel concerned about the weight you’ve lost this past semester. I was hoping we could talk about this.”
    • Example: I feel concerned because it seems like you’ve been dieting for a long time now. Is it possible for us to discuss this?”
    • Then, give the person time to talk and encourage him/her to verbalize feelings. Continue to engage discussion by asking clarifying questions and accepting responses in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Be prepared for strong feelings/reactions from the person (i.e., denial, anger, confusion).
  • Throughout the discussion, strive to avoid:
    1. Offering advice or personal opinions.
    2. Lengthy discussions that often end up in power struggles.
    3. Offering simplistic solutions (i.e., “why don’t you just eat?).
    4. Making “you” statements (i.e., “you have to eat something.”).
    5. Saying things like “you’re getting too skinny.” Instead, put it in health terms, i.e., “I am worried because you seem preoccupied and don’t have much energy lately.”
    6. Debate concerning food eaten or not eaten, calories consumed, and/or looking for reasons that contributed to the development an eating disorder. Remember—your primary purpose is to be supportive and to encourage the person to seek further help.
  • Toward the end of the discussion, provide information and resources for counseling/treatment (see Resources). At this point you might offer to go along and wait while he/she has a first appointment.
  • Close the discussion by letting him/her know you are willing to talk again.
    • Example: “I know you feel things are okay, but that will not change my concerns. So, I will bring this up at another time in the near future. We can talk again then.”

After:

  • If the person declines your request to seek further help, remind yourself you have done all it is reasonable for you to do. Realize you will have made important progress in honestly sharing your concerns, providing support, and offering available information and resources.
  • Eating disorders are usually not emergency situations. However, if the person is in acute medical danger and/or at risk for suicide, contact help immediately.
  • If you’d like to discuss your concerns further, and are a student at UWEC, please consider making an appointment with a counselor at Counseling Services, phone 836-5521. We’d be happy to help!


Resources:

  • UWEC Counseling Services - Phone 836-5521
  • UWEC Student Health Services - Phone 836-5360
  • Marshfield Clinic – Eau Claire Center for Eating Disorders - Phone 858-4850 (insurance information needed)
  • Luther Behavioral Health – Eau Claire - Phone 838-3066 (insurance information needed)
  • Healing Choices: A Treatment Program for Eating Disorders, Omne Clinic - Phone 832-5454 (insurance information needed/payment plans also available)
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