How to handle a friend's unhealthy eating/exercising obsession?
November 19, 2018 5:46 PM   Subscribe

A friend is struggling with feeling she's fat, is doing some extreme dieting things and has a history of binging and purging. I'm looking for some tips for dealing

It all started when I noticed her dieting and exercise regime and just randomly asked if she ever binged and purged. She admitted that she had and that no one had ever asked her that.

Since then, she's been sending me, unprompted, her daily eating log and comments about what she eats and how it makes her feel. Again, this was all unprompted and unasked for by me. So I'm not sure how to handle it.

Her weight isn't extreme and she has a weight/body that "most women would kill for". She has a certain goal weight in mind but says even then that she'd feel fat.

I haven't called her fat or even said much she complains about being fat. I've noted she's intense about her dieting/eating, but have mostly just listened. However, it is somewhat stressful to me to be hearing this somewhat destructive behavior. I don't want to "fix" her, but general encouragement of healthy things is basic human kindness yeah? Or is it in the situation?

So can you recommend any low key things I should or should not be doing? Mostly I just listen without judging.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
Your friend sounds like she in the throes of a powerful illness. Eating disorders can be extremely dangerous and people absolutely do die from over exercise or extreme calorie restriction. The best thing to do might be to encourage her to see a therapist or a medical professional. You might also label her behavior as something that seems it is dangerous and disruptive to her life. It sounds like she may have mistaken your interest/concern for support of her dangerous and disordered choices and you might want to clarify that's not how you see her behavior.

Barring that in your place I would spend time reinforcing that there are worse things than being fat. That health and thinness are not moral imperatives. The she has worth to you and the world that have nothing to do with weight or appearance.
posted by Saminal at 5:55 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Given that her relationship to food and weight appears to be disordered and that she seems to be reaching out to you for more than you can or should be be expected to give her, a call to the National Eating Disorders Hotline might be helpful. It offers "support, resources and treatment options for yourself or a loved one." They should be able to advise you on how best to direct her to the support she seems to need.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:52 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is a cry for help. Talk to the hotline, listed above.
posted by notsnot at 7:09 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

You should also make sure you're feeling okay with all of this-- that kind of talk would trigger unhealthy thoughts towards food for me! Make sure your own life-jacket is secure, oxygen mask is on, all that. It's okay if you need to assert boundaries / ask her to stop sending you daily food logs if needed!

Eating disorders are really complex, and she'll likely need to work with professionals as part of her recovery. As her friend, you could encourage her to take those first steps towards getting help (maybe going with her to the doctor's office for support, finding phone numbers to call for therapists, etc). If she's already telling you how she feels about all the food she eats and about her body/weight, you might be close enough to ask what she wants out of your conversations-- accountability? help? encouragement?

It's a bit out there, but is there a communal bathing facility in your area? (In NoVa, there's SpaWorld, a Korean bath spa) I find it really refreshing and helpful to go once in a while, to be in a space where nudity isn't sexualized and to see normal bodies of all shapes and sizes just hanging out and relaxing. I always feel a whole lot more at peace with how my body looks like after I spend a few hours in the baths and saunas, and it's nice to go out somewhere and do something that's absolutely not food or exercise related at all.
posted by devrim at 8:21 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't know, I think you need to set a boundary with her about this. It's not appropriate for her to send you, unsolicited, "her daily eating log and comments about what she eats and how it makes her feel."

The best advice is to do whatever the professionals at the eating disorder hotline have to say, but speaking from personal experience as someone who could probably be described very similarly to your friend (minus the part about the enviable physique, alas), I think I am familiar with at least some of the reasons she might be doing what she is doing, and I think there are certain responses friends can have that are more or less helpful, and actually in this situation, even listening without judging isn't necessarily the best one.

Basically, for all that "society" contributes to the development and severity of eating disorders, the fact is, the only way for your friend to get healthier and engage less often in this self-destructive behavior, is for her to work on her own relationship to herself/food/her self-worth, etc. There is no amount of uncritical acceptance, societal affirmation, reassurances, etc., coming from an external source, that will make a dent in this kind of thinking. It's a moving target, and that's why eating disorders are no less common among people who have, by "objective" standards, been deemed perfect or close to perfect by our society (I'm talking actors, models, etc.). The person whose opinion your friend values more than anyone else's in the world could provide a statement, taken under polygraph, notarized and sealed, declaring that your friend is "not fat" and it wouldn't make a difference for more than five minutes.

That being said, the eating disorder wants to perpetuate itself and it tells the person who has it that actually, yes, you just need to lose X lbs/fit into this garment/get a compliment from so-and-so, that's it, then we can relax. And it's not true and your friend probably knows it's not true but it feels true.

So, this whole business with telling you all about what she's eating and how it makes her feel is a way of her displacing responsibility for her relationship to her body, and food, onto you. Nothing you say will make any difference, and she knows that. If you approve of her extreme dieting, it confirms what she already believes; if you disapprove, it conflicts with what she already believes, so she will discount it. The only thing that will make a difference is your friend learning to be compassionate to herself. And no one can do that for her.

So anyway, as long as she's seeking absolution and/or approval from someone else, nothing is going to get better. The mindset I am in when I text a friend (and I have done this) to be like, "I just ate XYZ omg I feel so bad about myself" or, even the feelings I have (and this I have the sense to keep to myself) about being "good" on a day where I restrict my calories, whatever - anything a friend responds falls into the trap described above - it either reinforces what I believe, or it doesn't, so it is ultimately meaningless.

The only exception is if the friend gently draws a boundary indicating they empathize with my pain but are not going to engage with eating disorder logic, something like, "I'm sorry you are feeling that way, I hope you will be kind to yourself."

Feel free to Memail if that didn't make sense/you have further questions.
posted by Aubergine at 11:48 AM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

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