Having a friend in eating disorder recovery can be very daunting. You most likely will not know what they are going through, unless you have been in their shoes, and you may not know what to say or what not to say. Being supportive after your friend leaves treatment is just as important as being supportive before and during treatment. After treatment is usually the toughest time for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and that’s when friends are needed the most. Being able to know when and how to assist can help keep your loved one on their recovery journey.
What to do and say
- Always be open and honest with your friend about their eating disorder. Allowing them to trust you and share with you details about their emotions and thoughts is usually very hard for them since eating disorders are all about secrets and control. If you think you can offer helpful advice then you should however if you do not know if you have anything to say, it is okay just to listen. Individuals with eating disorders can be very sensitive and vulnerable so it is always important to be mindful of what you say and how you say it.
- Never pass judgment as it can easily be hurtful and can result in trust issues. It is always important to be cognizant that everyone’s eating disorder recovery is different. If you feel uncomfortable with certain issues about your friend’s eating disorder then it is important to be honest about these issues. You may feel uncomfortable sitting with them at meals but offer your presence and support during other activities.
- Educate yourself on eating disorders so you can learn about warning signs and symptoms, treatment and the emotional battles associated with eating disorders. Even if you have not had an eating disorder yourself, it is important to learn about this disorder so you can be more knowledgeable when giving advice to your loved one.
- Offer encouragement when they are feeling a lack of motivation or progress. Encouragement can also be attending family groups or support group sessions as a support person to better understand their eating disorder and the eating disorder recovery process.
- Help your friend stay connected within the community. Offer to take your friend with you when you go out with others. It is important that your loved ones maintains a balance of friends and support within the community and does not isolate himself or herself.
- Say “No” to behaviors that encourage disordered eating such as late night binging, excessive exercising or body shaming. If you witness your friend partaking in unhealthy behaviors it is important to address the situation in a kind manner and to avoid blame but start by saying, “ “I am worried about you because I see that you are engaging in some worrisome eating disorder behaviors”
What NOT to say or do
- Learning what to not say or do is just as or more important than saying or doing the right thing. Avoid comments about weight, body shape and body changes whether it refers to weight loss of weight gain. Being able to use phrases such as, “I am happy that you are taking better care of yourself” is a great way to support your friend. Be aware of your own weight and body comments since these can have a negative effect on your friend’s thoughts and perceptions about themselves.
- Stay away from judgmental comments about others, especially regarding appearance. If you feel like you are in a negative mood, it may be safe to stay away from your friend for the time being as negative energy can be a trigger for them.