How To: A Guide To Helping a Friend with an Eating Disorder

Since today marks the half-way point of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we wanted to share some information with you about how to help a friend who’s struggling with disordered eating or how to reach out for help yourself.

So, you’ve noticed that your friend has become overly concerned with what she eats or how much she weighs. Or maybe you have a friend who excuses himself from the table immediately after eating and you’ve heard him throwing up in the bathroom several times.  How do you show your concern and encourage your friend to get help? Here are a few tips.

  • Learn all that you can about eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex problems that require lots of support, care, and professional guidance. Check out and
  • Approach your friend in a caring, nonjudgmental way.  Explain WHY you are concerned and WHAT you have specifically observed.
  • Know that your friend might be in denial or react in anger.  Your friend may insist that everything is fine.  Do not back down, but rather continue to be available for your friend.
  • Continue to encourage your friend to seek treatment, even though he or she tries to convince you that nothing is wrong.  Do not accept or support their unhealthy behaviors.
  • Consider informing the parents or the resident advisor of your concerns.
  • Remain friendly and open to the possibility that your friend may choose to seek help in the future.
  • Remember…if your friend is over 18 years old, she or he is an adult and cannot be made to seek help.

Now that you’ve had the difficult conversation with your friend and he or she wants to reach out for help, what are the next steps? UNC has a variety of great resources to support someone struggling with disordered eating.

Counseling and Psychological Services
Speak with a trained professional to receive a referral for a therapist in the area. Body image groups are also occasionally offered.
Appointment: Walk-in to the 3rd floor of Campus Health

Campus Health Services
Speak with a health provider who specializes in Eating Disorders.
Katie Gaglione, N.P.
Appointment: 919-966 – 2281

Nutrition Counseling from a Registered Dietitian
Antonia Hartley, M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N.
Appointment: 919-966 -2281

Nutrition Counseling from a Sports Dietitian (for athletes)
Mary Ellen Bingham, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D.
Appointment: 919-966 -6548

For a free online eating disorders screening assessment, click here.

And don’t forget to come support the rest of the NEDA Week events going on around campus!

One thought on “How To: A Guide To Helping a Friend with an Eating Disorder

  1. Ben Barge February 27, 2013 / 1:41 pm

    Students should also know they can seek help from UNC’s nationally renowned Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, on the 1st floor of the UNC Neurosciences Hospital (phone: 919-966-7012). The Center has a host of amazing resources and clinicians that can help students find the appropriate medical and nutritional help they need, as well as negotiate insurance. They also offer inpatient, outpatient, and partial hospitalization services. UNC students have priority.

    Because eating disorders require long-term treatment, UNC Counseling and Psychological Services, as well as Campus Health Services will likely refer students they think need such treatment to the CEED anyway, so starting there can skip steps if a friend is reluctant to seek help.

    Thanks for sharing needed information about this serious issue, Sarah! NEDA estimates that 10-20 % of female college students and 4-10% of male college students have an eating disorder. Here at UNC, with over 18,000 undergrads, that’s enough to fill Memorial Hall one or two times over.

    Embody Carolina has just begun to offer regular peer-to-peer trainings to help students learn how to become effective, compassionate supporters of peers with eating disorders. To learn more, you can find the student organization on Facebook and Twitter.


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