Monday, August 18, 2008

Facing Anorexia

Q: My friend is dangerously preoccupied with losing weight. She is big boned and thinks she is fat. I think she looks fine. How can I help her?

A: Have you ever had yourself so convinced of something, that no one could show you that you were wrong? For example, you have yourself absolutely convinced that you hate the taste of broccoli – the last time you had broccoli was before you can remember, but nonetheless you hate the taste of broccoli. All of your friends try to tell you that broccoli isn’t so bad; your mother pleads for you to try just a little bite; but no, you continue to believe that the taste of broccoli is horrid, and won’t listen to another word otherwise. This is the same kind of thing that your friend is going through. She may have so completely convinced herself that she is fat that every time she looks in the mirror that is all she sees – fat. No matter how many people try to convince her otherwise, her mind is set. This can be a very dangerous situation if it gets out of control. Unfortunately, your friend needs to change her way of thinking and looking at herself, which is something she must do on her own. But don’t despair. There are a number of things you can do to help your friend along.

First, tell someone else – a parent, a teacher, a guidance counselor. Chances are that if you're worried about her obsession, it's serious enough that an adult needs to get involved. Second, talk to your friend. Tell her that you think she has a problem, that you are worried about her, and that she should talk to someone about it. Offer to go with your friend to talk to your school’s guidance counselor, or a priest. Third, don’t give up. The first time you tell your friend she has a problem, she will most likely become angry or indignant, denying everything you say and brushing you off as “stupid.” Try not to take it personally. Have you ever been told that something you strongly believed in was wrong? It’s not the easiest thing in the world to admit one’s faults, so keep trying to convince her to get some help. Fourth, let your friend know you’re there for her. At some point, your friend is going to have a really bad day, and need to talk about it. Listen. Often people who think they’re fat have other issues that they’re dealing with, and turn towards losing weight as a form of control or stability. Letting her talk out her problems with you is one major step towards helping her learn how to fix them. Fifth, tap into your resources. The Internet is full of different websites with information and advice on helping someone through an eating disorder – use it!

Finally, know that you cannot fix her on your own. Being there for your friend is important, but letting your grades, health, and emotions suffer as a result is not healthy. Learn how to tell when you can help, and when it is beyond your control or ability.

Maureen D.