National Eating Disorders Association

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Should I Tell Her Mom?

My best friend confided in me a few weeks ago that she’s suffering from anorexia. She showed me a journal in which she was writing down the minuscule amounts of food she was consuming and the excessive amount of exercise she’s doing. In addition, I observed her under-eating when she stayed with us for two weeks this summer (she lives in another state so I see her only once or twice a year). She said she’d been anorexic for about 30 days when she “came out” to me, although she’d had spells of unhealthy eating and poor body image before.

She’s struggled with depression and self-mutilation before, in part I think due to the stressful relationship she has with her step-dad, who’s frequently verbally/emotional abusive towards her. I asked her why she thought she’d started this disordered eating and she said it was to lose weight and take back control of her life away from her stepfather. I tried (in a hopefully nonjudgmental and understanding manner) to list some reasons why she should seek treatment-the health effects, the fact that she’ll be graduating from high school in a year and out of her step-dad control forever, but if she gets wrapped up in this disease she might never have control of her life again, that she would, in effect, be trading one (temporary) tyrant for another permanent one, that she has so many dreams for the future but the eating disorder would leave her unable to pursue any of them, etc.

I emailed her a list of resources (NEDA’s tips for building a better body image, a link to NEDA’s chat line, tips for dealing with verbal abuse, tips for reducing stress/anxiety via mediation, a list of ED therapists in the state which she lives, myfoodpyramid’s recommendations of how many grains/fruits and veggies/dairy/protein she should be consuming in a day to remain nutritionally healthy, the health risks of anorexia, etc.) and I’m going to go to Barnes and Nobles this weekend to buy and mail her a copy of Jenni Schaefer’s Life Without Ed, which really helped inspire me to seek recovery when I was eating disorderedly last year.

She told me that she’d talked on the NEDA Chatline, and the representative had identified her as exhibiting eating disorder symptoms, advised her to seek treatment, and gave her a list of places where she could do so. I asked her if she was going to see a therapist and she said “When I’m ready”. I asked her why she didn’t feel she was ready now and she replied “Idk.” I told her that if she ever needed help with anything or just needed to talk, I’d always be available. That was yesterday.

My gut impulse is to tell her mom about her eating disorder today so that her mom can get her into therapy as soon as possible (and monitor her eating/exercise habits) and the progression of the disease can be halted before its habits get more ingrained. However, my concern is that when she was struggling with depression/cutting three years ago, her family talked about getting her into therapy but ultimately nothing ever came of it. What if I tell her mom about her anorexia, her mom tells her step-dad, there’s a lot of screaming/fighting/blame assigned, she never gets taken to therapy, her eating disorder gets worse and worse, and now there’s no one she can confide in because she’s lost her trust in me? Should I wait and hope she decides to seek treatment for herself? What if she never does? Any advice would be greatly appreciated, thank you for reading.

Hello! You are an awesome friend!!!

Hey! Thanks for posting this on these forums!

First, may I say that you are an AMAZING friend! Your recovery from eating disorder behaviors has truly enabled you to be very resourceful for your friend! You already have done more (and in a better manner) than most people our age. Have you considered telling your friend about your journey through recovery?

I agree that your friend's behaviors are serious and dangerous. If I understand correctly, your friend is not 18 years old yet? If she is under the age of 18, she is legally under her mother's guardianship and she has the ability to get your friend help even if it is against her will... I completely know that it is scary to think that you might lose a friend, but maybe consider this... If you don't say anything, won't ed take your friend away? You are truly a loving person, and I know that you have the skills to do this well.

I have been in a similar situation. I have recovered from my eating disorder and have several friends who are/have been active in ed behaviors. This last semester in college I witnessed one friend in particular struggle a great deal. I knew that she was over 18 and technically "responsible" for herself. But, she was exhibiting very dangerous behaviors, and in that type of situation letting others who have more experience than we do is always a good idea!! I am so glad I called her dad to let him know about what was going on. She is now safe and doing much better. Our friendship was strained a little, but I can give you some ideas that I learned from my experiences.

If you do decide to call your friend's mom, I would suggest telling your friend soon after. That way, it isn't a "surprise" and seen as being judgmental or threatening. Plus, you can tell your friend directly why you needed to involve her mom.

Sorry if I have been long winded here! To summarize:

1) You are a great person who has done tremendous things for your friend already
2) She is in a dangerous position and needs help, we cannot conquer an ed without others to help
3) Speaking with her mom, and then your friend, would probably relieve a lot of your feelings of responsibility
4) If your friend does feel offended, please don't take it personally. Your friend would always love your help, but ED never wants help...

I hope this helps...

Is there any other way I can help you or your friend? Maybe you could suggest a Navigator?