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

About Eating Disorders

Every year, thousands of teens (and adults, too) develop eating disorders and eating disordered behaviors.

In our image-obsessed culture, it can be easy to become critical of our bodies. Everyday concerns about healthy eating and weight management can cross the line and become eating disorders. This happens when someone starts to do things that are physically and emotionally unsafe — things that could have long-term health consequences.

Some people go on extreme diets and can develop anorexia. Others may go on eating binges (overeat to excess, known as "binge eating"). And others may purge their bodies of the food they've just eaten through forced compulsive exercise, inducing vomiting, taking laxatives, or a combination of these (known as bulimia).

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

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 or feels constantly tired may have another type of health condition.

But certain signs can be an indication of a problem, such as if a friend:

  • Has an obsession with weight and food. It might seem like all your friend thinks (and talks) about is food, calories, fat grams, weight, and being thin.
  • Feels the need to exercise all the time, even when sick or exhausted, and might talk about compensating for eating too much by exercising.
  • Avoids hanging out with you and other friends during meals.
  • Starts to wear big or baggy clothes as a way to hide his or her body and shape.
  • Goes on extreme or highly restrictive diets (for example, eating only clear soup or only raw veggies), cuts food into tiny pieces, moves food around on the plate instead of eating it, and is very precise about how food is arranged on the plate.
  • Seems to compete with others about how little he or she eats. If a friend proudly tells you she only had a diet soda for breakfast and four chips for lunch, it's a red flag that she could be developing a problem.
  • Goes to the bathroom a lot, especially right after meals, or you've heard your friend vomiting after eating.
  • Always talks about how fat he or she is, despite losing a lot of weight, and sometimes focuses on body parts he or she doesn't like (hair, skin, arms, stomach) to the point of excess.
  • Appears to be gaining a lot of weight even though you never see him or her eat much.
  • Is very defensive or sensitive about his or her weight loss or eating habits.
  • Buys or takes laxatives, steroids, herbal supplements to lose weight, or diet pills.
  • Has a tendency to faint, bruises easily, is very pale, or starts complaining of being cold more than usual (cold intolerance can be a symptom of being underweight).

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