National Eating Disorders Association

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Concerned about some people - advice on how to help

I've noticed that over lockdown (and some time before) a few people I know have become increasingly obsessed with their body image, food intake etc. and I have no idea how to help as a friend. I'm speaking regularly with a couple of them and have praised them for opening up to me about it and encouraged them to seek professional help. Both their parents are also less than supportive - they actually encourage their behaviour- so I'm not sure whether they will be able to get any help at all. I don't want to trigger or offend them in any way so sometimes I don't know what to say. I know from experience the 'just eat' type of comments really don't make anyone feel better so I've avoided things like that.

The person I'm most concerned about though is someone i don't actually know all that well. We used to go to the same school but they left for uni this year so I won't be able to see them. I could tell they were struggling before hand but was never able to speak to them due to lesson timetabling and us being in different year groups. I have found out they are still struggling now from social media posts (not theirs) but I have no way of reaching them easily.

I just really want to help them because everyone deserves to be happy. Apart from professional help, what is the best thing I can do?


Dear Winds,

I've been in your position before, and am in the same position today, with some people I know on an eating disorder forum. I've been involved in this sort of thing for years now, so like yourself, I've had to try and figure out how to be supportive in ways that hopefully make some kind of difference.

And what I've come to understand is that there are limits on what we can achieve. This can seem like a bummer at first - We'd like to be able to *somehow* head them off in the direction of recovery, but what I've found is that that's a decision that they have to make for themselves. Which…sounds obvious I know, but even so, deciding to get help, or even deciding that recovery is what they want, that in itself can be a long and twisting journey.

So as a friend, you can't lose your patience with that, or allow it to discourage you. I think the best thing you can do is to try and put yourself in their shoes, and try and understand the issues that they are struggling with. Things like depression, self-hate, low self-esteem, frustrations they have about their "failures" as a human being because somehow the weight is not comping off fast enough. And just in general their worries about not being "good enough".

Which…a lot of this has nothing at all to do with food or eating. It's kind of deeper than that, if you know what I mean.

And yes, you're going to be limited by what stage of their ED they are in, and "what they can and cannot hear"…if you follow me?

People with EDs can feel shut off and disconnected from the world too. So talking about regular day-to-day things can help too, in that these are things which are *not* their ED, which is often all that they can think about during the day.

In any case, as far as "fixing" goes, that's not something we can really do. But if we can be someone who they feel safe to talk to, that can be of help I think, as they try and navigate their way through the mental maze of EDs.

Anyhow, just some thoughts. Keep writing ?

Bob J.