How do i help a friend with an eating disorder?

i have a close friend who is currently suffering from bulimia. she often turns to me, not for advice or anything, but just to speak about her problems, as i am someone who is in recovery from EDNOS. i want to help her, i really do, but i understand it is not in my hands to change her eating habits and my job right now is only to support her emotionally. i think the best thing she can do right now is to speak to her parents about going to a therapist or receiving professional help, but i know that she has a terrible relationship with her parents and that they often invalidate mental illness and will scold her about it, which is why she does not tell them. if im being honest, her talking about it to me is triggering. in fact, i did have a bit of a relapse lately. but i understand that im the only person she can talk to right now. how do i support her, though? im not sure what to say to her right now.


Hey briejch!

Wow! First of all, let me say your friend is very blessed to have you in her life. You are obviously a loving, selfless, and supportive friend! Not only that, but you understand her struggles in a way that probably makes her feel very safe and understood!

You are absolutely right! She does really need to speak with her parents about getting help. But if the reason she hasn’t done that is truly because of her difficult relationship with her parents, there are other ways to seek help! I’m not sure how old your friend is, but talking to a teacher or a school counselor is a good place to start! Another good option is a pastor or youth pastor. Though she may not be able to get the mental health advocate she needs in those places, those adults may be able to help her navigate this difficult conversation with her parents.

There are two questions I encourage you to ask yourself:

  1. Does she really want to get better?
    Talking to a mental health professional is a big step, and it can be intimidating! But there comes a point when a person has to choose to take a big scary step to get healthy. I’m guessing you’ve been there in your own battle with EDNOS! You can attest that it’s not an easy thing to do, but you made the choice to move towards health. (WAY TO GO!)
    Sometimes we just want someone to talk to, but we don’t necessarily want to change our behavior. It feels good to have someone to relate to, but she may not be at a point in her journey where she truly wants to change. That’s okay, we’ve all been there. But if that’s the case, you may have to accept where she is and just love her through the difficult season where she tries to figure out her next step. But this brings me to the next question I encourage you to ask yourself.

  2. What is your responsibility as her friend?
    First of all, if her health and safety are at risk, it is time to bring someone in who can help. As I mentioned before, find a trustworthy adult to help you navigate the best next step.
    Second of all, but not any less important, you need to make sure that this friendship isn’t unhealthy for you.

It sounds like you already know that this friendship has been unhealthy for you, but you are worried that if she can’t vent these things to you she won’t have anyone to turn to. That’s really hard, but you have to remember that your mental health is a priority.

Maybe it’s time to decide whether or not you can have a healthy relationship with her. Set boundaries and take care of yourself. Let her know that you love her and you are there for her, but that you also need to avoid talking about certain things so that you can continue to be healthy yourself. One tactic I have found to be extremely effective in subject change is saying something like this, “I’m really happy to be here for you, but I’m not a mental health professional, and I think this is something you should talk to a therapist about.” Try to set a positive tone during the times you spend together. Focus on it being uplifting rather than being her only chance to talk about these things. If she can’t respect your boundaries, it may be time to consider distancing yourself from her.

The truth is that friendships are messy. People are messy. And we are all on a journey. She’s at a different point in her journey, and that’s okay. But you aren’t responsible for her journey, just as she’s not responsible for yours! As a friend you can offer love, support, encouragement, and a reprieve from the difficulties she’s facing. You can be a good friend and take care of yourself. In fact, I would argue that you’re the best kind of friend when you take care of yourself first.

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