Helping a Friend

If you are worried about your friend’s eating behaviors or attitudes, it is important to express your concerns in a loving and supportive way. It is also necessary to discuss your worries early on, rather than waiting until your friend has endured many of the damaging physical and emotional effects of eating disorders. In a private and relaxed setting, talk to your friend in a calm and caring way about the specific things you have seen or felt that have caused you to worry.

What Should I Say?

Set a time to talk

Set aside a time for a private, respectful meeting with your friend to discuss your concerns openly and honestly. Timing is important: find a time and place away from other distractions.

Communicate your concerns

Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about your friend’s eating, exercise, or purging behaviors.

Ask your friend to explore these concerns

Ask your friend to explore these concerns with a counselor, doctor, or nutritionist who is knowledgeable about eating issues. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer to help your friend make an appointment or accompany your friend on their first visit.

Avoid conflicts or a battle

Avoid conflicts or a battle of the wills with your friend. Chances are good that your friend will deny or minimize any problems. People who are struggling with eating disorders often feel intense shame about their behaviors, especially binging or purging. Common reasons for minimizing or denying their struggles include:

  • Not wanting to burden anyone
  • Wanting to solve their problems on their own without anyone’s help
  • Fearing losing the control they feel that eating disorders provide

If your friend refuses to acknowledge their struggles, or denies that there is any reason for you to be concerned, restate your feelings of concern and caring and leave yourself open and available as a supportive listener. It may take the 57th attempt or the 109th person to express their caring for someone to be ready to seek help.

Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt

Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on your friend regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” Or, “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because I see you skipping meals.” Or, “I feel afraid for you when I hear you vomiting.” Also acknowledge that we are all impacted by the cultural messages to look a certain way. Share a story about your own struggles to accept your body.

Avoid giving simple solutions

For example, "If you'd just stop, then everything would be fine!" Or, “It’s not healthy for you to only eat salad.”

Express your continued support

Remind your friend that you care and want your friend to be healthy and happy.
After talking with your friend, if you are still concerned with their health and safety, find a trusted adult or medical professional to talk to. This is probably a challenging time for both of you. It could be helpful for you, as well as your friend, to discuss your concerns and seek assistance and support from a professional.

A Few Local Resources

Want More Information?

Carrie Bierck |

Community Life and Engagement Coordinator

Lori Koshork |

Counseling Center Director