Healthy Buffs: How to help a friend with an eating disorder

Eating disorders can be hard to talk about. They can be even harder to talk about when you’re concerned about a friend. Starting the conversation and connecting a friend to resources is important in getting them the help need.

Dr. Dana Udall, a psychologist at Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and the coordinator of eating disorder services, shares tips for talking with a friend who might be struggling and where to find support.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are serious conditions that can affect one’s physical and emotional well-being. The impacts of an eating disorder can reach over into one’s work, academics, relationships, and social life. They can develop because of negative self-image, but can also be used as a way to regulate emotions.

If you’re concerned about a friend, having a conversation is the first place to start.

How do I share my concerns with a friend?

Early intervention is important in helping a friend recover. Here are some tips for starting the conversation:

  • Pick a time when you can talk to your friend one-on-one. Find somewhere comfortable and private and make sure there’s enough time for the conversation.
  • Take responsibility for your own feelings and use “I” statements like “I’m concerned that…” or “I’m worried about you because…”
  • Avoid commenting on your friend’s weight or appearance, even positively. Comments like “You look great,” or “You don’t need to lose weight,” can reinforce negative behaviors.

Allowing time for your friend to process and respond to the conversation can help them feel supported. Approaching the conversation mindfully and compassionately can go a long way towards getting them the help they need. If it doesn’t go as planned, it’s still important to continue to be an ally and connect them to resources.

What kind of resources are there?

Wardenburg Health Services provides on-campus assessment and treatment for students struggling with issues related to eating disorders, food, weight and body image.

More information about eating disorders is available on the National Eating Disorders Association website.

To find community and hear one person’s journey to recovery, join CAPS and the Eating Recovery Center for an event featuring author Kara Richardson Whitely on Wednesday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m. in Koelbel 210.

About the Expert

Udall holds a PhD from the University of Southern California and has extensive experience in the area of eating disorders and body image. She trained at the Renfrew Center and Belmont Behavioral Health before becoming a Senior Staff Psychologist at the Eating Disorders Treatment Center in Albuquerque, NM. In addition, Udall maintained a private practice for nearly a decade in which she specialized in eating disorders, adolescent development, and the coming out process for GLBTQ youth.

Udall joined CAPS after training and working in various university counseling centers, including the University of Southern California, Mt. Saint Mary’s College, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed a pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship before serving as an Interim Staff Psychologist. From there she went on to La Salle University, where she worked as a Staff Psychologist. Udall is highly collaborative in her work, and seeks to empower students to make positive and enduring change in their lives.

The Healthy Buffs series is brought to you by Wardenburg Health Services. Visit us online at www.colorado.edu/health

-Ashley Hershey, CAPS Peer Educator

Dana Udall with the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)