Supporting a Friend Who Has an Eating Disorder in Mind
Twenty-four-year old Gillian* tells Young Scot how she has supported her best friend through an ongoing eating disorder.
Kate* and I became friends in high school. We were both members of the school dance club; I still remember Kate telling me that she wished she was thin like our dance teacher. Not long after that she told me that she’d been making herself vomit after every meal for over a year and made me promise not to tell anyone.
I had no idea what to do; I was afraid for her health, but also afraid of betraying her trust. After a week or so, her health won. I decided losing her as a friend would be worth it, if it meant her staying alive. I confided in a mutual friend and together we composed a letter to her parents. By the time we got the letter to them, they were already aware of Kate’s situation and were in the process of getting help for her.
Eleven years later, Kate has been in and out of hospital and has tried many different approaches to getting better. It’s not easy feeling constantly helpless, but the best thing you can give your friend is support. The road ahead is long and hard, but for Kate, she’s stuck with me - whether she likes it or not.
When your friend has an Eating Disorder:
- It’s okay if you sometimes get frustrated with them. There are times when I’ve wanted to shake sense into Kate and ply her with chocolate. Getting angry and frustrated is normal, and in fact, is a sign that you care.
- When your friend looks at you, they do not see a fat person. The only person they perceive differently is themselves.
- Don’t change your eating habits around them. You may be tempted to eat less around your friend, or not eat at all, but it’s important for your friend to see people with healthy, “normal” eating habits.
- Expect odd text messages at any hour of the day/night. They either think they’ve eaten too much or are having a “fat” day – whatever it is, just try to reassure them.
- Don’t get upset if they cancel plans last-minute. A big part of our social lives involves food. Don’t be surprised or angry if your friend pulls out, but equally don’t stop inviting them out; it's better if they have the choice.
- Making jokes sometimes is okay. In life, sometimes all you can do is laugh. Kate and I have been friends for so long; we’re both quite comfortable making jokes without the other taking it to heart.
- Make sure your friend knows that you’re always there for them. Even if you’re halfway across the world (which I am now!) make sure that they know they can contact you at any time and that they’ll always have your support.
- Underneath it all, they are still your friend. No one should ever be defined by an illness that they have. Kate is still the fun-loving, clever and beautiful person I met at high school and that’s how I’ll always see her.