CASSIE WRITES: How can I help a friend with an eating disorder? A friend of mine, a sweet 12-year-old, was just diagnosed with anorexia. This is new for me. I so want to help, to support her, but I feel so helpless. It’s such a complex thing – spiritual, psychological, physical, heart-deep. I don’t know what to do or not do (except pray of course), what to say or not say.
For those who have been through eating disorders, or have friends who have, what is the best way I can help? How do I journey through this with her?
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Someone very close to me has battled an eating disorder for years. She is doing much better now, but it always something that she will have to wrestle with. I think the thing I learned most about how to help someone going through something like this is to unconditionally love them. They need to know that you love them and support them.
Thanks Emily. 🙂 I will try my hardest to love my friend, and it’s so good to hear that it actually matters to them.
One of the key questions (probably best work this out subtly rather than ask outright – unless she’s that kind of person) is why? Why is she annorexic and then you begin to be able to address the issue a little or even just be able to understand her mindset a bit better.
It is a complex issue and sadly sufferers are getting younger and younger. It is not true of everyone but I’ve had a number of friends with bulemia or annorexia and the pattern is evident that the issue with many (not all) bulemics is guilt. They want to not be fat but they want to eat so they eat but then they hate themselves for it and so they purge. Annorexia on the other hand seems to be more about control rather than guilt (again not always). A lot of girls with annorexia have fussy parents. It’s a way of taking control. Obviously not true for everyone but an interesting thing to watch for.
Sometimes it’s simply a cry for help because no one seems to be listening. So listen to her first. Listen to what she says and remember that it’s as much about what she doesn’t say as what she does say.
Also, does she suffer from anxiety? Because sometimes anxiety can be so debilitating that it stops you eating. You know you need to but you just can’t. It’s horrible 🙁
Sorry, that was a bit of an info dump. Sort of but not really. Basically, all you can do is try work out the why, it’ll help you help her and in the meantime, don’t pester her to eat because if it’s anxiety, it’ll make her worse, if it’s control it’ll make her feel like you’re trying to control her too, and if it’s a cry for help then you’re almost giving the message that starving yourself works. It’s a difficult one.
So yeah, do what you can to discover and help her with the deeper issue. Take away all her magazines and teach her that her identity is in Christ not the media or critical friendships. It’s difficult but you know the situation better than us. I hope any of this helps :/
I really appreciate you taking the time to share this advice, it definitely helps. 🙂 Yeh, I’ve had another friend say to ask her ‘what do/did you hope to accomplish by not eating?’ (well, something along those lines, I’d obviously say it more gently than that) so it’s good to hear confirmation of that advice.
I don’t think she suffers from anxiety, but she might and I just don’t know about it. I’ll keep that in mind.
Thanks again, this really is good stuff to hear. 🙂
I know that this must be very hard for you, and you are such a good friend for wanting to try to help her.
My advice (other than to pray a lot, like you said) would be probably to just support her by being there for her. Telling her that she is beautiful the way she is might be a nice thing to do, but it could also be taken as meaningless comment to try to boost her confidence, so be careful with how you say it.
I’d say to just do what you’re doing right now: show her that you’re her friend, and that you’ll always love and be there for her. Let God’s love shine through you.
I agree! Sometimes, it feels like people say things halfheartedly and don’t totally mean it. It seems like it is a meaningless comment that tries to boost your confidence. Thank you Christy!
I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that! You’re welcome! 🙂
Thanks for the advice and encouragement, Christy. 🙂
I had a friend that passed away last year after battling anorexia for years. She was a Christian and lived her faith. Emily is right in that you should love her and show it. But this is a deeply physiological condition. Experts believe that it is a way of controlling what appears to them to be falling apart. It might be a small issue or a large issue that triggers anorexia, but depending upon the person’s nature, some will succumb to the pont of death.
I would not overwhelm her with advice or information about her condition or where she can get help, unless asked. She probably already knows. Anorexia not only can isolate you, but also can bring attention to yourself. When you are consumed with yourself and your condition, it is very hard to keep your priorities straight.
I would spend time with her and not speak of her physical condition, but I would focus on her spiritual condition. Have a Bible study with her. Study the Word with her. That is the best help one can give. Definitely pray with her, but keep your relationship founded on God and not on her, remaining compassionate at the same time.
I love your heart for the hurting. May God abundantly bless you in this ministry to your friend.
Great points and advice, thank you very much. Actually, I asked her mum if I could mentor her a bit (just do some Bible studies etc with her), but her mum seems a bit reluctant. A big prayer point would be that she comes around to the idea and is willing to let me mentor her daughter.
I don’t have experience with this, but I just wanted to say that I will be praying for you!
I really appreciate that, Grace. 🙂
love and prayer is the best thing! This is coming from someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. Continually bring your friend to Jesus and remind her how special she is. I love how you want to help. That is awesome!! Never stop being there for her.
Thanks for the advice h97! I’ll do my best. 🙂
I don’t really have any experience with this type of situation but I do have a coupe of tips that might help. First, I would maybe research a little about anorexia. If you don’t already have an idea on what it is. That would help you better understand your friend’s situation. And maybe you could better relate and give better and more accurate advice. Second, like h97 said, be there and be an amazing friend! Friends are very important and their opinions and actions can bring out the best in us in most cases. So just be AMAZING and be there. It will make more of a difference than you know!
Hope this helps you and I will pray for you as well!
As friends, we are tempted to look at the physical side of the disorder – the hair loss, the weight loss, the refusal to eat. However, eating disorders are actually a mental mindset – not feeling beautiful, not feeling good enough (trust me on this one). The best thing you can do is make sure adults are monitoring both her physical and mental well-being and be there to show this girl that she is LOVED, she is BEAUTIFUL, and she is wonderfully designed and cherished by the Creator of the universe. Hope this helps!!!!
Thank you Emily! She’s seeing a psychologist in hospital, and her family and friends are mostly Christians, so in part I think they are monitoring her mental and spiritual well-being. But at the same time I don’t think she’s getting enough of that spiritual/mental support. I wish I was in a position to take her to a Christian counsellor, but unfortunately all I can do is pray, support her spiritually + mentally, and encourage others to do the same. Thanks again for commenting, that does help. 🙂
I’m glad to hear that she’s getting the help that she needs! You sound like a really great friend to have by your side for someone who’s dealing with a disorder like this. And I’ll be praying both for your friend to get better and for you to have the strength to be there for her. Being there for your friends when they need you can be very difficult, so I’ll be praying for you both.
Thank you Emily, that really means a lot to me. 🙂
I know how you feel in being unsure how to help a friend. Of course, fervently pray. Make it a point to remember her in your prayers throughout the day. Also, asking your parents or pastor for advice is a good way to go. Another thing is to send her (by email, text, or even snail mail) Bible verses that remind her who God says she is.
Good advice Grace, thank you. 🙂
Hmm… I don’t know anyone with eating disorders, but I think what I would say is, learn more about it so you can understand better what she’s going through, and remind her that God loves her no matter how she looks or feels, and so do you. Gently remind her that God has a plan for her and if she allows him to, he will bring something good out of it. Of course, only the part of understanding what she’s going through will work very well if she’s not a christian, so a lot depends on that factor.
Hey Cassie, I don’t know the reason why your friend has the eating disorder. But I’d like to share my experience on this. A friend of mine also have this kind of problem, and every time when she feels nervous or upset, she eats a lot! Sometimes she forces herself to eat sth she doesn’t like at all. Like some high calorie junk food. Just a sense of unsecurity also makes her fall. But some sincere love from some close friend can make her stop! So the continuous love, support and prayer should be helpful!
hey cassie i don’t know much about anorexia but i know what it is like to be overweight and i think you should treat both cases the same way you should support her in as many ways as you can and try to make sure she doesn’t want to lose weight using extreme measures.
P.S. give her pizza and ice cream no way she is turning that down
I have/do struggle with a tendency towards eating disorders. I have to be very careful, otherwise I would probably develop to that stage of being diagnosed. My best advice is to pray and be a friend to her. Don’t point out her struggle, but let her know you’re there. This is toughie and I’ll be praying for you and your friend!
So, like a lot of other people have said, I don’t have any experience with anorexia. But, something I’ve been learning is to focus on the person, not the problem. It sounds like you are pretty close to this person, so you probably know things that she enjoys doing, things that make her happy, things that let her know you care. I know I’ve been trying to help a lot of friends lately with other things and the best way to help is to just do things they love. Whether thats giving hugs, going for a walk, playing games, giving her encouraging notes, randomly giving her gifts, whatever you know makes her feel loved, special and encouraged. I would maybe ask her how she was doing, but would avoid outright talking about her anorexia unless she opens up about it or asks you for advice. I would guess that as you are just loving her she will begin to feel comfortable around you and know that she can trust you and she may open up to you. If not, I wouldn’t be discouraged, when you have a problem, talking about it with everyone and having it define you and be the center of every conversation can be tiring and it may just be refreshing to her to have a relationship where she feels like that doesn’t define her and you love her despite the anorexia and you want her to change, but you won’t force her to change.
I hope that helps a little. I’ll be praying!
I was diagnosed with anorexia 3 years ago and am now mostly recovered. I would say the biggest issue i had to get over was that I was not in control of my life- God was. Once I let God take control of my eating, and being okay with that, only THEN could I start to recover. So as someone who’s trying to help a friend- keep preaching the gospel to her! Help her know God better. Remind her God does not love her any more or less when she eats “good” or “bad”. Help her focus on other things outside of her problem. It sounds contradictory, but she’s already focused on her problem- it’s all she thinks about probably. Talking about other things reminds her to look outside herself. Get her involved in work helping others, etc. Don’t comment on her body EVER- especially when she gains weight. It may cause relapse…she’s fighting her own “demons” in her head. I’ve written about my experience if it helps: http://thesocialintrovert.blogspot.com