Asking for a Friend: Help! My friend has an eating disorder and I don’t know what to do

  • This week, we discuss supporting a friend with bulimia, being comfortable with liking K-pop as a male, and how to deal with potentially jealous boyfriends
  • If you have difficult, embarrassing or awkward questions to ask about teen life, send them in anonymously, and ‘Friend of a Friend’ will do their best to help you
Amalissa Hall |
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Let your friends know you're there for them.

Dear Friend of a Friend,
My friend is depressed and harming herself. Sometimes at school, she forces herself to throw up in the bathroom after lunch because she thinks she’s fat.

I feel so helpless not being able to help her or talk her out of it. I’ve never gone through what she’s going through so I don’t know how to help. What should I do? 
Stressed about a depressed friend

Hi Stressed,
It sounds like your friend is struggling with an eating disorder, and that’s a very delicate subject, especially for the person who is going through the ordeal. Professional help is the answer here, but that will only be effective if your friend realises they need to speak to someone.

Steph Ng recovered from an eating disorder, and now supports others fighting similar battles

You alone won’t be able to convince your friend to stop these actions, but until she does ask for professional help you can continue to support her and care for her. Start by making sure she doesn’t feel abandoned. Keep including her in what you’re doing, and let her decide if she wants to come or not. And remember, it’s not about you.

I totally understand that you don’t know what she needs, but it’s a good idea to show her you still want to be with her through this difficult time. You could suggest coffee dates or physical activities where weight loss isn’t a focus, such as hiking or playing badminton.

What it’s like living with anorexia – a personal story

This would allow your friend to see all the fantastic things her body can do for her and maybe help her see how much fun she can have. Treat the activity as a celebration of what your body can do! Bonding and finding a middle ground may change her way of thinking about body image.

Be wary when talking about food. There’s no need to discuss calories, or what’s good and what’s bad. Talk about food in moderation. The thing about eating disorders is there is an element of guilt and control surrounding food, so it’s best not to talk about it critically, and definitely don’t draw attention to her eating habits.

Try not to treat it like an elephant in the room, because she is most likely aware of her own difficulties with it and would probably like to keep it to herself.

How to scale back on self-harm and find healthier coping methods

Lastly, make sure she has a good support network, and give her your time. She may want to speak about it, or she may not, but you can’t force her to. Let her know you are always there to talk, and that you want to make sure she is okay.

Be aware of any changes – if she starts losing weight rapidly, or is feeling more depressed than usual, then you might need to be more honest with her and tell her you’re worried about her. Hopefully that might encourage her to seek the help she needs.

When she does decide to reach out, if she isn’t comfortable speaking to her parents right away, you can suggest she speak to your school’s counsellor or social worker. There are also organisations like MindHK that can provide mental health support until she feels ready to speak to her family and doctor.

I sincerely hope you and your friend find a solution.
Take care,
Friend of a Friend.

Hi Friend,
I’m a guy and I really like K-pop. I even made a fan account for Twice. But sometimes, I feel almost ashamed to talk about it with others, because liking K-pop isn’t “masculine enough”.

The guys around me don’t think K-pop is “real music”, so I’m stuck enjoying it by myself. How can I get over this?
Twice Guy

Hi Twice Guy,
It’s easy for people to dislike something because it’s popular or edgy to do so. Having different interests in school can certainly draw attention and negative criticism, but you know what? Who cares! Who cares what people around you think about your choices? Why should they dictate what you should listen to or enjoy?

Gender shouldn’t dictate interests, especially when it comes to music

If people feel the need to dismiss K-pop as not being “real music”, that speaks volumes about how insecure they are about their own sense of self.

Find a community of people who like the same things as you do. I’m sure there’s at least one person in your school that shares your tastes.You say you’ve made a fan account for Twice, so why not turn that into your own online space? I’m sure there are others who feel alone in their interests, so you could turn this into an opportunity to make friends elsewhere.

Keep doing you, listen to what you like, and don’t worry about not appearing “masculine enough”. If you are confident in your interests, people will be drawn to that.

What does it take to be a K-pop idol? A look inside a life of a trainee

The people currently around you don’t want to talk about K-pop, and that’s their choice. But if they are making you feel ashamed or guilty about it, then it’s time to make new friends!
Hope everything works out for you,
Friend of a Friend

Hi Friend,
I’ve been friends with this girl for a long time, but ever since she got a boyfriend, we’ve been more distant. Even though I’m gay, I think her boyfriend might feel insecure and uncomfortable when she hangs out with me.

I would never try to ruin a relationship but I also miss my friendship with her. Should I talk to him about it? I feel like it isn’t my place. 
Left Out

Hi Left Out,
When people start dating, they go through a “honeymoon phase” where all they want to do it spend time together, and they’ll probably neglect some friendships in the process. It stinks for their friends and might not feel fair, but it’s normal.

Right now, you might be projecting your own idea of what your friend’s boyfriend thinks about you. Give him the benefit of the doubt! He probably just wants to spend time with her and build their relationship.

Help! I think my teacher hates me ... what should I do?

It could also be that he’s nervous and wants you to like him. You’ve been friends with his girlfriend for a long time, and you obviously mean a lot to her, so that means your opinions matter as well. He may feel like he has to impress you, and may be unsure how to act around you.

I don’t think you should talk to the boyfriend about this, but I do think you should talk to your friend.

You don’t have to bluntly tell her how you feel, but you can let her know that you miss hanging out, and you’d like to spend more time together.

You should also try to get to know him better, and I’m sure your friend would be happy to have that kind of support. Suggest some activities to do together (within Covid restrictions of course) and see if you can be friends with him on your own, too.

Learn to stand up for yourself: assertiveness is a skill that can be learned

However, if after your efforts to bridge the gap, he still seems uncomfortable, then maybe it’s worth having an honest conversation with your friend about it. You can explain that you don’t appreciate how this person isn’t willing to get to know you the same way you are trying with him.

You may have to respectfully step away from the friendship for a bit while your friend figures out what she wants. But I hope it never gets to that. For everyone involved, this is a steep learning curve, but if your friendship is strong, you’ll get there!
Best of luck,
Friend of a Friend

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