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Ask Amy: My Friend Has an Eating Disorder—What Should I Do?

My friend has an eating disorder. I want to tell someone, but I'm afraid it will result in her having to take time off, or even quit. I don't want to ruin her life. What should I do? —Sarah


First, try not to think that you'll be ruining your friend's life. Quite the opposite—having an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia could ruin, or even end, her life if it's not treated. And the earlier she seeks treatment, the better her chances of recovery.

That said, before you tell anyone, you should approach her yourself—you probably don't know the full situation. Choose a private time to talk to her alone so that she feels more comfortable opening up. Let her know that you're worried about her, but be careful about how you phrase your language. According to Dawn Smith-Theodore, a certified eating disorder specialist and author of TuTu Thin: A Guide to Dancing Without an Eating Disorder (available at tututhin.com and Amazon), talk about your concerns from your own perspective. Use "I" statements ("I've noticed you're not yourself lately," "I'm concerned about you," "I want you to get help"). Avoid starting sentences with "you" ("You didn't eat lunch," "You were throwing up"), which sound accusatory. "That's immediately going to put her on the defensive," Smith-Theodore says, and make your friend less inclined to confide in you.

If she doesn't respond well to your concerns, then it's time to reach out to a trusted adult, such as a teacher or your friend's parents. (Ask your parents to accompany you if you feel overwhelmed.) Start by telling them what you've noticed, and ask if they've noticed similar behavior. Let them know how worried you are—hopefully that will urge them to take further action. Will your friend be upset with you for telling? Possibly. But having the bravery to intervene shows how much you care about her well-being, which is ultimately more important. You could quite literally help save her life.

Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at askamy@dancemedia.com.

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