How to Spot Whether Your Friend is Developing an Eating Disorder

Disturbed or abnormal eating habits are something which I feel are becoming more normalised in our society. But how do we see the difference between a friend making a casual deprecating comment about their figure, or a friend developing a systematic need to alter their eating in an unhealthy way?

There are several key behaviours or ‘red flags’ which you could look out for in your friends:

  • Being obsessively controlling over situations related to food 
  • Planning meticulously what, when and how they are eating
  • Appearing more depressed, anxious and fatigued with little energy
  • Being constantly concerned and distressed over their appearance and diet

It is important to recognise that having an eating disorder can make every person react differently and that they can also hide symptoms. Failing to recognise an eating disorder in a friend does not make you a bad person; these types of illnesses are often very difficult to identify and can cause people to act in a multitude of different ways. 

Much like many other teenagers, I struggled with an eating disorder. This was during the Summer before I started university. One of the majorly concerning things about this was that no one was able to notice. At the time, much like my friends and family, I too didn’t realise that I had a problem. One main thing which I did often was to brush my teeth multiple times a day, so that my mouth felt fresh and clean and therefore I wouldn’t want to eat. This resulted in me Googling how many calories were in toothpaste. Realising that behaviour like this isn’t normal was the first step to me recovering and being able to regain a healthy relationship with food. 

A main problem with the way many people think about eating disorders is a lack of knowledge. Anorexia, when you try to keep your weight as low as possible by not eating enough food, is perhaps one of the most well-known types of disordered eating. However, there is a huge spectrum of eating disorders including: bulimia, binge eating disorder and other specified feedings or eating disorder (OSFED). It makes it harder to identify problematic eating habits in your friends if you are only tuned in to the symptoms of anorexia, for example. 

The media sets us up to fail. We’re constantly bombarded with the prettiest of people parading the skinniest of figures to which no mundane person can possibly manage to conform to. This is a key reason which I feel has resulted in many people casually making repeated self-critical comments and developing unhealthy eating habits. Enclosed in a world obsessed with appearance, we can easily find ourselves and our friends slipping into obsessive cycles concerning food and exercise. 

We all need to be more alert and more knowledgeable to the symptoms of eating disorders. However, it is also important not to be confrontational and accusing when addressing someone who you feel may need help. Spotting the signs early and talking things through with the people we care about in a non-judgemental, concerned way can really mean so much. 

Megan Johnson