Proud2Bme | How Are You Feeling? Talking to a Friend about Eating Disorder Concerns

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How Are You Feeling? Talking to a Friend about Eating Disorder Concerns

By Adam Pope--One cannot be certain an individual has an eating disorder solely by their appearance. In fact, several signs of disordered eating may be viewed by some people as normal behavior—for example, runners adhere to strict workout regimens and people with diabetes often need to eat at specific times. 

It is not one or several habits that make an eating disorder diagnosis, but the severity and frequency of the habits. Even then, the only person qualified to diagnose an individual with an eating disorder is a qualified medical professional.

It is through this lens that advice should be given to family and friends whose loved ones may be struggling with an eating disorder.

One of my coworkers—a woman I had been working with a woman for several months—spoke frequently about what new fad diet she was on or how much weight she wanted to lose in a week. We'd take a break around 5pm and she'd say “I'm so hungry; I haven't eaten all day.” This went on for a few weeks until one afternoon, when I noticed that she looked fatigued and her hands were trembling.

“Are you feeling OK?” I asked. “Your hands are shaking.”

“Just fine,” she replied. “Maybe I'm just a little dehydrated.”

Nothing more was said. As a friend, I had made my concerns known, and that was all I could do. About a week later, the same coworker told me in confidence she had been struggling with disordered eating, and when I asked her that day how she was feeling it brought her recovery back on track.

Other times, I'm off the mark when I check in with a friend. Sure, the individual may eat and exercise at specific times; they may even display other habits of those with eating disorders, like refusing to eat certain foods and making appearance-based comments, but that doesn't mean they have an eating disorder.

However, as an individual in recovery from an eating disorder, I have never been offended by a friend or family member asking how I am feeling. It's comforting. Keep in mind that my opinion does not represent everyone in recovery; other people may take your good intentions as invasive and become defensive.

If you are concerned about a friend’s health, let him or her know that you are coming from a place of love and understanding—please do not act accusatory. Explain that you are concerned about specific habits you've noticed and why they may have a negative impact on their wellness. What's important is that your friend sees you as someone who will be supportive and non-judgmental.

If you or someone you know may have an eating disorder please contact a parent, guidance counselor or the National Eating Disorders Association’s Helpline at 800-931-2237. Additionally, you can access NEDA’s resources for family and friends here. Remember: you are not alone in this fight!  

About the blogger: Adam Pope is a multimedia journalist and eating disorder advocate living in Fargo, North Dakota with his two cats and wife-to-be. An avid cyclist, he regularly commutes year-round--often needing studded tires in winter. His love of cycling and reading can be seen on his arm and leg, respectively, where he is completing a tattoo piece representing his favorite book Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell.

Also by Adam:

Relationships, Communication, and My ED

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