Eating Disorders

Can guys help girls recover from their Eating Disorders?


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Question:

I was watching your videos in an attempt to better understand eating disorders and what I can do to help my friend who has an eating disorder. I thought it would be best to ask your advice directly.

You see my friend used to be my girlfriend…When we were together she was still struggling with her ED along with depression. I somehow made it a little better and she was making a little progress. She stopped using drugs, stopped drinking, cutting, but of course, her ED behaviors continued and also depressed her greatly. I was there for her and she would feel better, but the urges would not stop. Once I broke up with her she went right back to it…her depressions seems like it got worse and her ED behaviours as well…Also, her therapist doesn’t know about her ED. Her parents do, but they seem to not be helpful I guess. She says that her mom especially says some days that she is “too fat” or forces her to eat because it is unhealthy to not eat.

I think our break had something to do with worsening her ED or depression. She says that it didn’t but I feel like it has. When I talked to her after her break up and told her that I loved her still and what she feels for me, she said that she didn’t want to get hurt anymore.I just feel like it made everything for her worse… I’m just really worried about her. I feel helpless, I’m trying to help her but I feel everything I tell her just goes in one ear and out the other. I tried telling her that she is not fat and that her parents do care but they may be in denial… I read about how to act when you have a friend that has an ED and they say not to be judgmental…So I find myself not knowing what to say…I’m just not sure what to do. I’m worried about her health, I’m worried that I might lose her. I want her to get better, and I feel so helpless and guilty not being able to help as much as I can.

Response:

Thank-you for your message and my heart goes out to both you and your friend.

I am happy to hear that you are doing some research so you can better understand Eating Disorders – I wish more people would do this because it definitely puts you in a better position to have a positive rather than negative influence on a friend/family member who may struggle with an ED.


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Here are my thoughts…

First, you need to know that as much as you may want to, you cannot ‘fix’ your friend.

You can support her, you can love her, you can pray for her, but you cannot get rid of her eating disorder. It is important for you to understand this because often we tend to put this pressure on ourselves, and it is completely unfair. ‘Healing’ someone from an Eating Disorder (or depression/addiction) does not lie in the hands of family/friends – it lies in the hands of the individual and their efforts to help themselves along with the help of a professional (therapist / nutritionist / psychiatrist etc…)

In addition, gender does come into play here. It is very difficult for a guy and a girl to ‘help’ each other through struggles such as this while still maintaining a ‘healthy’ relationship. Too often in my own life and in the lives of my friends I have seen relationships between guys and girls of this nature cause more harm than good.

Does this mean that because you are a guy you cannot be a friend and a support? Certainly not! What it means, though, is that there are limits to how much you can support her and your ‘role’ in this support. To simplify it, I like to put it this way: a girl’s ‘core’ support system (outside of any professionals they are seeing) should be other girls, and in the same way, a guy’s core support system should be made up of other guys.

There are many reasons for this – First, the obvious ‘romance/attraction’ factor (yes, even with someone you may never see yourself ‘being with’ – you don’t have any way of knowing FULLY where the other person’s head/heart is, and also it is not uncommon for one or both parties to ‘fall’ for the other when put in such an intimate relationship that comes with being someone’s main support through these types of struggles. Second, gender differences cause guys and girls to think differently, which makes it difficult to fully ‘sympathize’ with what your friend may be experiencing/struggling with.

The simplest way I can describe this is by saying that there is NO problem with you being there for her, but when she needs someone at 1 am because she is tempted to binge/purge/cut, you should NOT be the one she calls – that is what her girl friends are for. BUT she can call you the next day to talk about what happened. In other words, you are not her ‘emergency support team’, but you are still there to support her in a less ‘essential’ way. I hope that makes sense.

I think you should recommend she starts talking with her girl friends. I hope she is already doing this and not only leaning on you (for reasons mentioned above). I also think you should talk to her about the nature of your relationship and how it may need to change based on some of these concerns I’ve mentioned.

Second, I want you to know that her eating disorder is NOT your fault.

I know that you mentioned she already told you this, and you really need to believe her. Take it from someone who has had an eating disorder, I too had an ex who felt that my ED was his fault no matter how much I assured him otherwise. But I can say with confidence that it was NOT his fault – my Eating Disorder was not the result of any one person’s behaviours. There was no single ‘event’ or series of events that caused me to originally stop eating, it was, instead, a series of choices made by ME that led me down that path.

No one is perfect, and at some point we will all hurt another person (most likely, we will do so many times) and, yes, it is our responsibility to do our best to treat others with love and kindness, and where necessary we do need to own up to the things we’ve done that have hurt someone else and apologize and then work on ourselves to avoid hurting others in the same way BUT that’s where our responsibility ends. We are responsible for our actions, but now for how others respond to our actions. So please don’t blame yourself.

So now onto your friend.

I am encouraged to know she is in therapy, but I am concerned that she is not telling her therapist about her ED. Perhaps this is something you should encourage her to do. I am sad to hear how her family (her mother especially) is behaving in this situation. Unfortunately, apart from you talking to her mother (and I do not know the nature of your relationship with her mother nor do I know her mother and so I am in no way suggesting you do this – I will leave that at your discretion) there is nothing you can really do about this.

Now, if your friend is in a place where she wants to seek help for her ED but isn’t ready to talk about it with her therapist yet, then perhaps she is willing to read some books?

Here are some I found helpful:

  • “Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer – DEFINITE MUST READ!
  • “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me” by Jenni Schaefer
  • “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch

I think that is all the advice I can offer at the moment. I also recommend reading more of the articles we have on our site, especially those tagged “Advice for Family and Loved Ones.”

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Lauren is the Founder and Editor of Libero. She started Libero in April 2010, when she shared her story about her struggles with an eating disorder and depression. Now Lauren uses her writing and videos to advocate mental health and body positivity. In her spare time, she enjoys makeup artistry, playing Nintendo, and taking selfies with her furbaby, Zoey.

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The opinions and information shared in this article or any other Content on our site may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.