CampusLife

Wellness Center

Questions?

  • Wellness Center
    202-885-3276
    wellnesscenter@american.edu
    McCabe Hall, Room 123

    Espinosa, Michelle
    Associate Dean of Students

Mailing Address

How to Help a Friend

 

If you suspect a friend may be struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating it is vital to follow these guidelines when attempting to help them:

Remember that only a team of qualified medical professionals can help somebody overcome an eating disorder. People suffering from an eating disorder have to be "approached" with extreme care, even by medical professionals due to the sensitive nature of the illness and the stigma the individual may often feel.

Reaching Out to Somebody You Suspect May Have an Eating Disorder or Disordered Eating

DON'T:

  • Blame them for doing something wrong or tell them to stop "acting silly" or "childish"
  • Don't talk about the problem in casual conversation with other people!
  • Don't talk about weight, calories, or food when around the person. You're only fuelling their thoughts.
  • Don't make comments about the person's appearance. Saying they look like they have lost weight might be seen as recognition of a "good achievement."
  • Don't be afraid to upset the person, talk with them.
  • Don't reject or ignore the person. Even if they claim they don't want or need you, they DO need you!
  • Don't get involved in power struggles around eating or other behaviors. Trying to force people to eat will only make them more upset and less likely to see you as a source of help.

DO:

  • Recognize that eating disorders can be fatal and should not be ignored.
  • Remember individuals with eating disorders are not choosing to diet, not eat, or overeat. Eating disorders are complex psychological disorders.
  • Listen to the individual with understanding, respect, and sensitivity.
  • Make sure you use "mirroring" words such as "Yes", "I know", "It's really difficult, isn't it?" when talking to them so that they know you are actively listening to them.
  • Tell the person that you care and would like to help!
  • Suggest that the person might benefit from visiting the Counseling Center, Student Health Center or the Wellness Center.
  • Be AVAILABLE! If somebody wants to talk to you about their problem and you shut them out, they may not make a cry for help to anybody again for a long time.
  • Persist! If the person rejects you the first time, don't give up. They need your help! The second time you talk to them will be easier than the first!
  • Remember people with eating disorders are NORMAL people who happen to be unwell!