I think my friend has an eating disorder

My friend has an eating disorder

What do I do if I think my friend has an eating disorder?


I get this question a lot from friends and acquaintances. What should I say? What should I not say?


First off, thank you for caring. You’re asking the exact right question and I know you want to help your friend.


Next, you should know, just as important as what you DO say is what you DON’T say. I’ve created a cheat sheet for you so you can approach your friend with confidence and care and help her in the best way possible.


If you are a parent trying to support your child with an eating disorder, please read this post.


Here are the DOs and DONTs if you think your friend has an eating disorder:




– Gently say something! Silence isn’t going to help your friend. People struggling with eating disorders are terrified of someone finding out and of asking for help.


– Approach her at a time that is outside of eating. Make your friend feel comfortable by speaking to her one on one and in a safe environment.


– Use I statements! “I care…” or “I’m concerned and love you…” When I was working in private equity, the founder of the firm pulled me aside and said “I’m worried about you. Can we talk?” Him saying this to me was what ultimately led to me finding a therapist to get help.


– Listen. Actually really listen to your friend. Ask her if it’s okay for you to ask questions. If your friend with an eating disorder doesn’t specifically tell you how to support her, ask her. “I want to support you and be a good friend – what can I do?”


– Let your friend know that you are available anytime she wants to talk. Tell her you believe in her and even though you might not fully understand, you will listen.


– Validate your friend is she shares with you. Say things like “I’m so glad you chose to share with me.”


– Sometimes it helps to share your own struggles with life. Vulnerability begets vulnerability.




– Comment on her weight or body! This is all off limits. Even if it’s in the form of an I statement, don’t say it. For example, do not say “I’ve noticed you lost weight.”


– Avoid using FEAR as a way of motivating your friend to heal. Most people with eating disorders know they are causing damage. Avoid saying things like: “you know that you could die.”


– Give advice. Leave that to a therapist or coach. Do support your friend in asking if there’s anything you can do to help find a therapist or coach, etc.


– Unless you’ve truly had an eating disorder yourself, avoid talking about ‘food’ or ‘exercise’ as a problem for you. This can be triggering for a friend who has an eating disorder.


– Talk about food, bodies, dieting or exercise at all unless your friend brings it up. While eating disorders appear to be about food and the body (and they are to some extent), they are usually about something much deeper.


Say something


Saying something is better than saying nothing at all. If you are truly considering talking to your friend with an eating disorder, write a script out. Here’s an example script that a client of mine used to ask her friend if she had an eating disorder:


“Hi. Would this be an okay time to talk? I first want you to know that I really care about you. I’ve felt a bit worried lately and wanted to ask if you are okay? I’d love to listen.”


What happens if you approach your friend with an eating disorder and he or she denies having an eating disorder (and maybe she doesn’t!)? It helps to have a one-liner ready in the instance that you are wrong or that your friend doesn’t want to talk about it.


I’d simply say something like, “I understand. I value our relationship too much to not say anything. I love you and hope you can forgive me.”


By saying something, you have left the door open for if and when your friend is ready to talk. Finally, visit NEDA website for more resources and a specific video on how to help a loved one with an eating disorder.

4 Facts & 4 Tips For Eating Disorders in the Workplace

someone presenting on eating disorders in the workplace

1) You cannot “SEE” an eating disorder in the workplace


A common myth about eating disorders is that you can SEE it. This is false. An eating disorder is a mental illness. Weight is not always an indicator of an eating disorder. As a result, you can’t know whether or not someone has an eating disorder.  As a result, you can’t know whether or not someone has an eating disorder by appearance.


Over 90% of my clients have had a normal BMI and appeared to be in physically great shape.


eating disorders in the work place at a meeting


2) Eating disorders and mental illness impacts productivity


Mental wellness matters. Many argue that success in the workplace is 80% mental and 20% strategy.


100% of my coaching clients are so consumed with thoughts of food and their body that they can’t meet their performance goals in the workplace.


Thoughts of eating lunch with colleagues feels overwhelming. Typical work conversations of diets can be triggering. As a result, this leads to restriction, over-exercising or binge episodes.


The eating disorder takes over lives. Therefore, many of my clients miss work regularly. They feel physically and mentally drained. And it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning.


The World Health Organization reported that depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact – to the tune of $1 trillion per year globally in lost productivity.


3) Eating disorders are more common in over-achievers


Eating disorders affect 30 million people in the United States. And they have the highest mortality rates among any mental illness.


Studies have shown that those with bulimia and anorexia have higher levels of perfectionism.


Not surprisingly, employees who perform at the top of their game and set high standards for themselves are more likely to suffer from an eating disorder.


These are the employees you want to retain!


I struggled with an eating disorder for seven years in a corporate environment and during graduate business school. I often wonder how much more effective I would have been if I didn’t have the eating disorder.


4) Shame plays a big role


I’m curious. If you had a mental illness, would you feel comfortable sharing with HR or your direct boss?


Firstly, many people are too ashamed to admit they are struggling. We now have a list of celebrities who seemed okay, but in reality were suffering. Secondly, it’s easier to pretend like everything is okay. You won’t draw attention to yourself. Plus, wearing a ‘wellness’ mask feels safer.


Finally, people don’t want to be a burden. Therefore, people don’t often seek help when depressed or mentally ill.


All of my clients felt pressure to keep the eating disorder ‘a secret’ in the work place. This secrecy increases the shame and reinforces eating disorder behaviors.


Ultimately, if an employee feels unsupported, he or she may call in sick or even worse, quit.


What employers can do to help employees with eating disorders


Mental wellness is the new ‘ping pong table’ and ‘kombucha on tap’ at companies. Invest in the mental wellness of your people and you’ll attract top tier talent and retain them.


Businesses don’t need to overhaul HR. And companies don’t need to add a new role to support those struggling.


Managers can take any of the below steps to show that mental wellness is a priority.


1) offer a list of resources for anyone struggling with mental illness.


This can include contact info of coaches, therapists, and dietitians. On the other hand, avoid giving employees a phone number to the insurance company.


I’ve seen companies hire in house coaches and mental wellness professionals. Employees can speak to these professionals in confidence.


2) contribute financially to mental wellness.


First, offer quarterly wellness seminars. Coaches or employees can facilitate these powerful sessions. Second, give your employees  tools to cope with stress. Finally, offer individual virtual coaching sessions for employees. Employees will feel safe, heard and won’t fear being judged.


All of these can be achieved by partnering with a mental wellness coach.


In conclusion, managers should care about employees with eating disorders. They should have an active mental wellness plan in place. And the plan should include a clear path for employees to seek help.


3) clearly communicate that mental wellness matters.


Let employees know mental health is a core value at the company. Write on the walls if you have to!


For example, your company could say: “If you are battling a mental illness, we will support you. And we want you to speak with Susie in HR to get help.”


4) create an environment that allows for mistakes.


Otherwise, the work culture may unknowingly increase the intensity of eating disorder behaviors.


If you are interested in an employee wellness seminar to improve productivity, focus and confidence, schedule a free consultation today.