I was the housemate/best friend of someone with an eating disorder (Anorexia Nervosa). At first I had no idea that my friend had an eating disorder as she kept it a secret. There would be days when my friend would be in bed and would tell me she was sick but it was not even on my radar that it could be an eating disorder. Eventually I figured it out as I was noticing signs such as, no food being eaten in the fridge, days on end when she would be in bed, and she began wearing looser clothing so that I and others could not notice the weight loss. Once I did confront my friend about it and she admitted it to me, I became extremely worried and went into ‘saviour’ mode. I felt frustrated at myself that I had not worked it out earlier and wondered how I could have made myself more available for my friend to tell me how she was feeling and possibly prevented her from relapsing. I wanted to help her in any way I could.
This went on for some months and my friend was in and out of hospital. She was telling me more and more things about how she tricked medical staff into thinking she was eating. My visits to the hospital were probably the most distressing for me as sometimes I felt I was visiting a different person, I felt at times that the eating disorder was taking my friend away from me and I felt helpless. The most terrifying part of it all was I thought there would be a day when my friend was not in hospital and that I would find her unconscious or even dead.
If I were to be able to give advice to someone who was supporting a friend with an eating disorder I would say don’t think you can ‘save’ them, don’t try to ‘save’ them, just continue to be the friend that you always have been. Do things with your friend that you would usually do when you spend time together. Be available but don’t push information out of them. Do not constantly harass them about their eating, from my experience and observation, it does not help. The one thing I wish I was told in the beginning would be the signs of an eating disorder and told that no matter how distant the person becomes to you, no matter how different they become, they are still the person that you love and DON’T give up on them completely ever, if you need to distance yourself for your own wellbeing do so, but don’t lose your special friendship. There is still hope that they can get through this disorder with the support of the people around them.