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This is what you should do to support a friend with an eating disorder, according to the experts

How to broach the conversation with those you love.

CW: This article contains references to eating disorders, binge eating, restricted eating throughout and self harm throughout.

GROWING UP, MY friend Emma* was the source of much entertainment. She was by far the funniest out of all of us (although it pains me to admit it.) She was never not up for a joke, and had no qualms about making herself the butt of it.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the laughter stopped, and when Emma’s eating disorder fully took over. Barely teenagers attempting to cut our teeth on the world, most of us had no idea how to help Emma with what she was going through. At a time when we were all unnecessarily obsessed with our looks, our understanding of EDs was limited. How could she not see what we all saw in her?

“I always struggled with disordered eating from a young age,” Emma told DailyEdge.ie. “I wanted to believe it was a phase in my life, a long phase, that I would grow out of it. The truth is, I don’t think you grow out of it, and I think it will be always something that sticks with me. 

An eating disorder isn’t something you turn on and off.”

shutterstock_668247181 Source: Shutterstock/Tero Vesalainen

How to bring up the conversation

“The first conversation you have with someone you suspect might have an eating disorder, you should up on eating disorders beforehand,” Barry Murphy, Communications Officer at Bodywhys told DailyEdge.ie.

Inform yourself. At the end of the day, it’s a mental health issue. Don’t let misconceptions cloud your thinking.”

“Go in knowing that your concerns may be brushed aside. Don’t put the focus on food or weight. Express how worried you are and explain that you’ve seen a fundamental change in them as a person.”

Emma was lucky to have us as friends. Although we struggled on the communication front, we made sure to include her in everything we did – something which friends can struggle to maintain with those suffering.

“On the social side of things, don’t drop the person – invite them to things,” Murphy further advised.

As a group, we were lucky that we didn’t feel the pressure of comparison that now seems to come hand-in-hand with social media usage for this generation. However, Murphy says the jury’s still out on the relationship with social media and eating disorders as much more research needs to be done.

“When you’re young, you do compare yourselves to others, that’s unavoidable. Now, it just happens to be in your pocket. If the entirety of your self-worth is tied up in social media, that’s obviously a larger problem.”

Murphy explained how Bodywhys continues to support parents through structured guidance and literature, as many come to them looking for help for their family members.

“The last couple of years, we’ve mainly been working with families and carers,” he said. “What they struggle the most with is understanding that the person with the illness and the parent or carer view it through different lenses.”

Parents need that structure and guidance and that support which allows them to identify with others going through it.”

Now, Emma’s focus is her one year-old son and continuing her recovery.

“At the moment, what helps me most is my therapist who I see once a week, sometimes twice,” she said. “Speaking to my family, not feeling ashamed or embarrassed if I’m not doing the best … Just being able to reach out and talk.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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