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June 19, 2019

Anorexia and Friendship: How Do I Help My Friend?

Woman struggling with Anorexia and Self-Injury

Anorexia Nervosa is estimated to impact 1 to 4 % of females. Anorexia is a devastating disease with the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses. Anorexia is not only harmful to the individual, it can dramatically impact families and friendships.  Often a close friend may be the first to recognize signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa. 

As a friend of someone who may be displaying signs and symptoms of anorexia, you can be a valuable source of hope.  Observing concerning behaviors such as isolation, over exercising and undereating in your friend is upsetting.  You deserve to feel worried. Your compassion and interest in your friend’s health is admirable.  Here are some signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa that you may recognize in your friend.

Concerning Signs A Friend May be Struggling with Anorexia Nervosa

  • avoidance of sharing meals with others
  • food rituals (such as cutting food into many tiny pieces)
  • appearing worn down, tired and letheragic
  • avoidance of social gatherings
  • no longer interested in hobbies and activities once enjoyed
  • dramatic weight loss

Anorexia Nervosa’s Impact on Friendship

Whatever the red flags that you have picked up on, friends are often able to discern when things have changed in someone they care for, such as personality shifts or mood disorders. Anorexia is a very complex disease, and the changes that may occur may happen gradually over a period of time.

As your friend struggles with this eating disorder, you may find an increased strain on your own relationship. Your friend may appear standoffish, closed off, or unable to share in the friendship you once had.

You may feel sad, abandoned and confused by your friend’s lack of interest in pursuing your once vital friendship.  It is important to recognize that if they are struggling with anorexia, they likely just do not have the energy to engage in the friendship at the previous level.  But, do not lose hope!  With eating disorder recovery, your friend will regain vitality and renewed interest in life.  So stay strong and have faith that this disease of anorexia nervosa can be overcome with appropriate eating disorder treatment.

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Helping a Friend with Anorexia When You Feel Helpless

Watching someone close to you suffer from Anorexia can be painstaking and overwhelming, to say the least. How do you help your friend in need when you feel helpless or uncertain about how to approach such a complicated situation?

Perhaps one of the best perspectives in these types of situations is to know your limitations while not underestimating the power of love and support. This idea may seem counterproductive but it may be a helpful way to approach your friend who is struggling with Anorexia.

Know Your Limitations

One important thing to understand about Anorexia is that it is a biologically based illness. A common misconception about Anorexia is that it is a disease of “vanity”. You may think that your friend simply wants to lose weight or is looking for attention through changes in their appearance.

This could not be farther from the truth. Research has shown that Anorexia is predetermined by biological factors, and these are aspects that a person does not have any control over. Because of these complexities, overcoming Anorexia requires professional eating disorder treatment.

Group of Young Adults and their Corporeal Body

The earlier intervention occurs, the more likely the full recovery of the individual struggling with anorexia nervosa.  So, take your concerns about their behavior around food, weight and relationships seriously and diplomatically share your thoughts with your friend.  It is crucial to avoid judging or accusing the friend.  Using a format similar to this may help you effectively communicate your concerns while also preserving the friendship:

“I feel concerned for your health and well being.  When you eat too little for your body and continue to lose weight, I feel scared.  Because I love and care about you, I want to discuss this and encourage you to seek some support and help.”

If you feel concerned about your friend but are unsure what to do, consider confiding in a trusted adult, like a mentor, teacher, or health professional.  They may be able to help you identify resources eating disorder treatment.  They also could be a valuable support to you as  you seek to help your friend.  Professional intervention may be necessary to help your friend come to terms with their eating disorder.  The best thing you can do is direct your friend to the help they need while being supportive in the recovery journey.

Offer Love and Support

Watching your friend struggling with the life-threatening disease of an eating disorder can bring out many emotions: fear, distress, anger, resentment, guilt and more. Try to remember the friend you love and care for through all of it.

Standing by them through thick and thin will be an invaluable part of their eating disorder recovery. Be a voice of encouragement, a listening ear, or just simply staying present. All these things can be helpful while facing Anorexia Nervosa and supporting your friend seeking eating disorder treatment and recovery.


The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources, 2003.

Author:  Anonymous
Article updated, repurposed & refreshed by Jacquelyn Ekern on June 19, 2019
Original article publised January, 2005
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 19, 2019
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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