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Eating disorders: How to help your friend

By bzbeth 01 Mar 2021

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week to raise awareness about eating disorders, and show how YOU can play a role in someone's recovery.

It's not easy to watch someone you care about damaging their health when the solution seems so simple. According to Beat, 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders so it's a really serious issue. 

a person looking out a window

Most of the time the person struggling just needs to know that if they want to talk, they can, and where you won't be able to fix everything, you can be an important support to their recovery process.

Here are some steps to take if you don't know where to start:

  1. Educate yourself
    Researching the issue will help you understand what's going on and reading other students experiences of eating disorders on the Student Minds blog can also help. 
  2. Focus on feelings & relationships
    Saying "tell me how you're feeling, I'll probably understand more than you think" puts you on your friend's level and is less intimidating than asking what is wrong with them.
  3. Let them vent
    Offering a solution will add unnecessary pressure. Let your friend know they can reach out to you and ask, "how can I support you?". Talking in a quiet, comfortable place will make it easier for them to open up.
  4. Time to do something?
    If their behaviour persists tell them why you're worried. "I" phrases like "I feel like you might be in trouble" or "it makes me worried" avoids putting blame on them. Say what you'd like them to do (e.g. see a GP) & offer to go with them.
  5. Hearing but not listening
    If the situation persists it might be time to bring in another party. Just be sure to tell them, "I really care about you, so I'm going to contact your...mum? GP?"
  6. Don't give a time limit
    Be in it for the long haul, or not at all. If your friend is taking longer than you thought to recover, keep confident that they will overcome this and ask them how much they want you involved. 
  7. Be encouraging
    Stay upbeat and do things to take their mind away from the problem. Watch a film, go for a walk? A breath of fresh air might be a nice momentary relief if nothing else. But if they resist, don't push it.
  8. Get support
    Supporting someone can be hard. Make sure you're taking care of your own wellbeing first and surround yourself with friends so you can give the best support you can.

It's difficult to bring up such a delicate subject but don’t let this keep you from voicing your concern; your friend might be struggling as much as you are to kickstart the conversation. 

Want to talk? Don't forget your University counselling service, Student Services and Student Minds are always here for you.

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