Eating Disorder Support
  • December 12, 2023

I Think My Friend Has Anorexia: The Role of Friends And Family In Eating Disorder Support

Friends and family play a key role in providing support when recovering from an eating disorder such as anorexia.  Whether […]

Friends and family play a key role in providing support when recovering from an eating disorder such as anorexia. 

Whether it be providing emotional support, advocating for professional help, or providing a safe space, a strong support network can be invaluable.

If you’ve had the thought “I think my friend has anorexia”, the first step often begins with recognising the signs and symptoms. 

If any concerns arise, it is best to approach your friend or loved one as soon as possible. This can be an essential step in helping your loved one to access the support they need in their recovery journey.


Does My Friend Have An Eating Disorder? 

If you are questioning whether your friend may be struggling with anorexia nervosa, here are some signs to look out for:

  • Noticeable weight loss: Your friend may have experienced significant, unexplained weight loss. 
  • Obsession with food and calories: They might display an intense focus on calorie counting, dieting, or extreme interest in food-related topics.
  • Avoidance or skipping of meals: Frequent avoidance of meals, making excuses not to eat, or picking at food during meals.
  • Unusual food rituals: Developing unusual food rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces or rearranging it on the plate.
  • Preoccupation with body image: Continuously expressing dissatisfaction with their body or striving for an unrealistic, extremely thin appearance.
  • Changes in appearance: Physical changes like a pale complexion, brittle hair and nails, or the development of fine hair on the body (lanugo) can be signs.
  • Excessive exercise: Engaging in excessive and compulsive exercise routines.
  • Social withdrawal: Withdrawing from social activities, especially those involving food.
  • Emotional changes: Mood swings, irritability, depression, or increased anxiety.
  • Physical symptoms: Physical symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, and fainting, as well as digestive issues.

Understanding Anorexia: What Friends Need to Know

Anorexia is a complex and often misunderstood eating disorder. It is often characterised by extreme food restriction, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image. 

It is important to understand that this eating disorder is not solely about food; it is a mental illness that is deep-rooted in emotional and societal factors

Anorexia significantly impacts the lives of those suffering from the eating disorder, as well as their friends and loved ones. 

Empathy and understanding are crucial when supporting a friend or loved one with anorexia. By educating yourself about anorexia’s challenges and complexities, you are better able to provide the compassion and guidance needed to help your loved ones on the path to recovery.

If you are concerned your friend or loved one may have anorexia, you mustn’t ignore the warning signs. Early intervention is key, and has been shown to improve the speed of recovery, reduces symptoms to a greater extent, and reduces the likelihood of relapse.

I Think My Friend Has Anorexia – What Do I Do?

Friends and family members play a crucial role in the journey of supporting someone with anorexia on their path to recovery. They are often the first to notice the signs of the disorder and can help their loved one seek professional help. 

Anorexia is an isolating disorder, and the emotional and physical toll it takes on individuals can be overwhelming. Loved ones can offer invaluable support, encouragement, and understanding. 

If you are unsure how to support a friend or loved one suffering from an eating disorder, educating yourself can be a great place to start. 

You may find it useful to do some research about eating disorders. This may include reading more about anorexia, the common signs and symptoms, treatment options, and supports available. 

Once you are feeling more comfortable with your knowledge, it is best to approach your loved one and open up a conversation about your concerns as soon as possible.


Starting the Conversation: Approaching a Friend About Anorexia

Approaching a friend or loved one about your concerns may feel uncomfortable and challenging.

Before you open up the conversation, it is important to be prepared that the conversation may go differently from what you had planned. 

It can also be helpful to consider the setting – choose a time and place that feels comfortable and safe for you both.

When it’s time to have the conversation, come from a place of empathy and concern. Avoid using accusations, and express your feelings using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. 

For example, “I’ve notice you’re not seeming like your usual self around food lately, I was just wanting to check in with how you are going as I’ve been worried.”

If you’re wanting to read more about this, read our article on What Can I Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder?

During the conversation, listen actively and stay calm. Your friend or your loved one may be defensive or in denial. They may also feel relieved to hear you care. 

They also may not wish to speak about it at all. This is okay. It’s important to respect their wishes.

 As a friend, you can emphasise that your there to support them, and help them seek professional help if that’s what they wish to do. 

Most importantly of all, assure your friend or loved one that you will be there for them throughout the recovery process. 

Guiding Your Friend to Professional Anorexia Support

Anorexia is a complex mental illness that requires specialised treatment from a team of qualified health professionals. While your support and understanding are important, professional help offers the necessary tools and strategies for recovery. 

If your friend agrees to professional help, they can get started with recovery by having a chat with their GP. 

It can be beneficial to seek out a GP who is an Anorexia Nervosa Specialist or has undergone additional training in eating disorder management.

From here, they may be referred to an experienced psychologist and eating disorder nutritionist and dietitian for ongoing treatment. 

Reaching out for support may feel overwhelming or scary for your friend or loved one. Offer to assist in finding suitable professionals that are Anorexia Specialists and even accompany them to appointments if they’re comfortable with it.

Other resources that can be useful for getting started with recovery include:

Be a Supportive Friend: Help in Anorexia Recovery

Anorexia is a complex and dangerous condition that greatly affects the person suffering from the eating disorder, as well as those around them.

Friends and loved ones are often the first to recognise any concerning signs and symptoms of anorexia, and can play a key role in providing support during recovery. 

The road to recovery can be challenging, but with the right guidance, support, and professional help, your friend can take crucial steps towards healing and recovery. 

If you’ve ever had the thought “I think my friend has anorexia”, remember, early intervention is key. Encourage them to seek professional help as soon as possible. But most importantly, be a supportive friend. 

This article was written by Accredited Practicing Dietitian Jade Wrigley, book in a free 15 minute discovery call with her here.

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