How to be a Better Ally to a Friend with an Eating Disorder
Throughout our lives, there are moments that we encounter where we would do anything to be better prepared. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned among us can find it challenging to know what to say when confronted with a difficult situation.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon now for our teens and tweens to run into situations involving disordered eating within their friend groups. Knowing what to say or do in these situations is difficult enough for adults who understand eating disorders. When our children are entering these situations for the first time, how could we possibly expect them to know the best approach?
As parents, there’s a lot that we can do to help our daughters develop a healthy approach to food and eating. However, that doesn’t mean that she still won’t experience this phenomenon among her peers. Helping her understand and be aware of these situations will enable her to be a better ally.
What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is a mental health condition “characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.”
Approximately 0.9% of women and 0.3% of men will develop anorexia in their lifetime, and this is just one condition that falls into the category of disordered eating.
Many of the behaviors leading to these mental health conditions develop during the teenage and adolescent years. In fact, one 2010 longitudinal study found that over 5% of adolescent girls met the criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or a binge eating disorder.
Eating disorders can also develop in tandem with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
How Teens and Tweens Can Be an Ally to a Friend with an Eating Disorder
Talking about eating disorders needs to be handled with great care. As parents, we should be making our children aware of these conditions and giving them the opportunity to ask questions.
Here are some strategies and suggestions you can offer during your discussion.
Don’t shame or police a friend’s eating habits
“You eat like a mouse!”
“Where did you put all that food?”
“Boy, you were hungry!”
Even these simple phrases can cause tension and strain and are best avoided.
Avoid body-related compliments
Skip conversations about weight or food
Encourage them to seek help
There are many resources that are specifically dedicated to helping teens and tweens who may be struggling with disordered eating. You don’t have to have your daughter memorize all these resources, but making her aware that they exist will allow her to easily offer them to a friend in need.