How to Approach a Friend with Eating Issues?

By November 21, 2012

Today I am writing for help for a friend I have recently met. The Lord has brought me through my own struggles with disordered eating and I can stand in Victory today because of Him and His strength. I found your site as I was working through my struggles. Recently I met a young girl, Stephanie. We met at work (a restaurant) and soon discovered that we attend the same church. I believe she has a relationship with the Lord, but she has been taken far off course by the enemy. I cannot say beyond a shadow of a doubt that she has an eating disorder, but she is extremely thin–you can see her veins bulging through her skin, her legs are as thin as my arms, her shoulder blades protrude in her back–she eats very little, if at all, at work, she exercises religiously–she’ll even suffer through a cold night in her apartment so that she won’t have to turn her heat on, just so she can have the money to pay for her gym membership. She lives alone. I am very concerned about her because she is tired all the time, works so slow at work, and seems to be confused all of the time. She is not getting the nutrients her body needs! You would think that going through this myself, that I would know how to approach her, but I don’t. I fell in the “EDNOS” category, I fear that she is at the extreme end of the spectrum and I fear for her health and her life. Any help you can offer is MUCH appreciated! Thank you! – Megan

Dear Megan:

We are pleased to hear of the progress you have made in your own life with eating issues, and are glad that you have found our website helpful. Your friend is blessed to have someone in her life who cares about her and wants to help.

Your concerns about your friend are valid, and a lot of signs point towards anorexia: extremely thin, obsessive exercising that is interfering with other aspects of her life, poor nutrient intake, fatigue and confusion.

Your hesitancy in confronting your friend with your concerns is understandable. She is a relatively new friend and you are still building trust with one another. Also, recovery from your own struggles is rather recent, which makes you less confident than you would be if you were further along. That said, you may very well be just the right person to help. Start by sharing some of the struggles you’ve experienced in your own life with eating and body image issues. Ask if she can relate to what you are saying, and try to make a connection. Then, tell her some of the things you’ve noticed, emphasizing your concern for her well being, rather than what you might think she is doing wrong.

If your friend is responsive to your probing and receptive to getting help, you can start by directing her to resources such as this site and Constance’s book, Life Inside the “Thin Cage.” Show her the “Finding Treatment” article and help her follow through to start counseling. But be aware that if your friend is deeply entrenched in an eating disorder, she may be in total denial and/or not be rational in the way she views her situation. If she is not thinking clearly and shows no movement towards seeking healing, then you may have to solicit help from others. Perhaps you could seek out her family members and share with them your concerns, or even speak to someone in authority at work. This is a hard step to take, but you could help save a life.

We also have a number of videos on our site on the subject of “Helping Others” that might give further insights and suggestions regarding how to approach a friend with eating issues.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of prayer as you try to help your friend. I hope and pray it goes well for you.