Girl has eating disorder; friend wants to help
• Rapid, dramatic weight loss
• Baggy clothing
• Complaints of being cold
• Heads to bathroom after eating (to expel food)
• Scabs on knuckles from forced vomiting
• Obsession with food, cooking, calories, weight
• Cuts food into tiny pieces, hides or discards food
• Won't eat around others
• Uses laxatives, diet pills, ipecac syrup or water pills
• Exercises frequently and strenuously
• Withdraws or becomes secretive
• Soft, fine hair on face and body
• Swollen cheeks and/or joints
• Abdominal distention
Dear Straight Talk: A girl from my senior class has a severe eating disorder. She looks skeletal and girls have heard her vomiting in the bathroom. I've talked to her, but she doesn't believe she is skinny. The school was notified and they notified her parents, but there has been no action.
She is over 18. Is there anything I can do? She's kind of a loner, but I have somewhat of a bond with her. I'm worried that when she goes off to college she won't know anybody and it will worsen. — Jack, Costa Mesa
Kira, 19, Santa Cruz: I'm glad you want to help. Most people just talk. A girl on my sports team had an eating disorder. I remember us talking about her. I asked if anyone was doing anything and everyone kind of shook their heads and kept talking.
Everyone could tell she was getting skinnier — but maybe it was from working out? I figured I'd tell a coach when I was more sure. Days later, she was on medical leave. I wish I had done more. The lesson is even if you don't know someone well, let them know you are there for them. Kindness can do wonders.
Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: Most eating disorders are brought on by trauma from abusive friends or family, even someone random who says something hurtful. My sister was being called fat, and while she wasn't even overweight, she became bulimic for a while. The school was alerted, but schools can only do so much. Counseling is good, and a good friend is extremely important, too. Keep telling her how much you care.
Jane, 20, Placerville: I suffered from an eating disorder in high school. You lie to yourself and those around you, saying that everything's fine. I was lucky my disease never needed hospitalization. A friend's offhand comment woke me up. Talk to her parents, and to her, too — but know that the decision to heal is out of your hands.
Taylor, 15, Santa Rosa: Reach out to her. No matter what she says, continue saying how beautiful she is and that she doesn't need to hurt herself. I, too, suffered from eating disorders. I was lucky to get early help from friends who stayed by my side. Her situation sounds more serious and you should find her professional help.
Hannah, 18, Safford, Ariz.: I had a severe eating disorder two years ago. It was my mother who helped me out of it. After my recovery, I met a girl who had been anorexic most of her life. I reached out because I knew what she was going through. Sadly, she wasn't open to help. To this day, she eats almost nothing and runs everywhere. She will probably die. Invite this girl into your group of friends. Feeling loved and accepted is key.
Christina, 20, Marysville: Be there as a friend, but don't play therapist. She needs a professional.
Dear Jack: I agree. Your friend needs professional help — quickly. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental disorder. Call the National Eating Disorders Association Hotline at 800-931-2237. They will provide talk support and direct you to local help. Share this column with your friend and her parents and urge them to call the hotline also.
In being her friend, know that anorexia and bulimia make people introverted, so check in with her often. Don't expect her to check in with you. Also know that many ordinary and well-meaning statements actually trigger an anorexic's continued starvation. So instead of talking, hug and touch her often, radiate positive, non-judgmental, loving energy and mostly be quiet and listen so she can talk.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, nearly 10 million females and 1 million males in the US are currently battling anorexia and bulimia. From the panel's testimony, the numbers who have battled the disease are much higher.
The NEDA estimates that more than a third of normal dieting deteriorates into eating disorders. Most cases begin during adolescence, but symptoms can occur as young as kindergarten. Lately, there is a rise in older women (50s, 60s and 70s) seeking treatment.
For some moms, anorexia in their child hits close to home. The relative of a person with an eating disorder is 10 times more likely to have the illness themselves. Food is social and humans are social. Parents, please be mindful of how you talk about food and your body when dieting (or wishing you were dieting). Your kids are listening without a filter.
For more on how to intervene, see nationaleatingdisorders.org. — Lauren
Lauren Forcella co-writes Straight Talk TNT with a panel of more than 70 teens and young adults. To ask a question or become a panelist, click StraightTalkTNT.com or write to P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA 95628.