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I Think My Friend May Have an Eating Disorder. What Should I Do?

About Eating Disorders

Who Can Help

Every year, thousands of teens (and adults, too) develop eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors. In fact, an estimated 24 million Americans meet the criteria for an eating disorder.

In our image-obsessed culture, it can be easy to become critical of the way we look. Taking good care of our health and physical fitness is important for all of us.

But some people can take being fit too far, which can lead to an eating disorder. Some go on diets that become more and more restricted or extreme, leading to anorexia. Others may eat way too much food (known as binge eating). And people with bulimia may try to make up for their eating by vomiting, using laxatives or other medicines, fasting, or exercising compulsively.

Although eating disorders are much more common in girls, guys can get them, too.

What's Going On?

Eating disorders can be caused by — and lead to — complicated physical and psychological illnesses. Many people with an eating disorder also have problems with anxiety (excessive worry) and depression (feeling sad, hopeless, and withdrawn).

Many people who try to lose weight feel successful and in control when they become thin. But people with eating disorders can become seriously ill and even die. They might start out dieting successfully and be happy with their weight loss, but then they find they can't stop. For some, losing weight feels like an addiction and they continue to restrict their food intake to an extreme degree (in anorexia) or exercise excessively to try to burn off food they've eaten.

Signs of Eating Disorders

So how do you know if a friend has an eating disorder? It can be hard to tell — after all, someone who has lost a lot of weight may have another type of health condition or might have been overweight and deliberately tried to eat better and exercise more.

But certain signs can indicate a problem, such as if a friend:

How to Help

People with eating disorders often have trouble admitting that they have a problem — even to themselves. They may feel guarded and private and worry that people will try to make them eat or gain weight.

It can be hard trying to help someone who isn't ready or doesn't think help is needed. Try not to get angry or frustrated. Remind your friend that you care. If your friend tells you it's none of your business or that there is no problem, trust your instincts and be the best friend you can be, even if that means telling your parents or another trusted adult about your concerns.

Date reviewed: September 2014

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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