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I Think My Friend May Have an Eating Disorder. What Should I Do?

About Eating Disorders

Every year, thousands of teens (and adults, too) develop eating disorders and eating disordered behaviors.

Friends and Eating Disorders Top Things to Know

In our image-obsessed culture, it can be easy to become critical of our bodies. Everyday concerns about healthy eating and weight management can cross the line and become eating disorders. This happens when someone starts to do things that are physically and emotionally unsafe — things that could have long-term health consequences.

Some people go on extreme diets and can develop anorexia. Others may go on eating binges (overeat to excess, known as "binge eating"). And others may purge their bodies of the food they've just eaten through forced compulsive exercise, inducing vomiting, taking laxatives, or a combination of these (known as bulimia).

Although eating disorders are much more common in girls, guys can get them, too.

Signs of Eating Disorders

So how do you know if a friend has an eating disorder? It can be hard to tell — after all, someone who has lost a lot of weight or feels constantly tired may have another type of health condition.

But certain signs can be an indication of a problem, such as if a friend:

What's Going On?

Eating disorders can be caused by — and lead to — complicated physical and psychological illnesses. Your friend's body image and behavior may be a symptom of something that's going on emotionally.

Many people feel successful and in control when they become thin, but people with eating disorders can become seriously ill and even die. They might start out dieting successfully and be happy with their weight loss, but then they find they can't stop.

What to Do

People with eating disorders often have trouble admitting that they have a problem — even to themselves. They may feel guarded and private.

It can be hard trying to help someone who isn't ready or doesn't think help is needed. Try not to get angry or frustrated. Remind your friend that you care. If your friend tells you it's none of your business or that there is no problem, you might have to talk to someone else about it.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: April 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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