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You Asked: How Can I Help Her?

Dear Sugar--
My workmate/friend is severely bulimic. She has dropped 3 dress sizes in less than six months by throwing up every single meal. She will eat a cup of instant soup, calmly put it down and then openly go to the ladies room to vomit. Most of the workplace has heard her vomiting. She carries a stick in in the pocket of her overcoat as a 'tool'. She has also stated that she carries weights in her pockets when she is weighed by the doctor. She stopped talking to her sister 2 years ago when her sister mentioned that she felt Lara was too thin, and stopped talking to her mom, who she lives with, for 6 months for the same reason. She is losing her looks and has started staggering when she walks. She is the kind of person who will cut off anyone completely out of her life if they say anything - she would leave her job, never speak to her best friend or relative in an instant.

We are going on holiday together soon, and the trip was organized BEFORE I realized how ill she is. How do I help her without becoming one more person she can just stop talking to? -- Looking out Laurie

To see DEARSUGAR's answer

Dear Looking out Laurie --

Your friend sounds like she is severely ill and is in need of some serious professional help before she causes herself irreversible damage. Eating disorders are very serious illnesses that need to be treated just like any other disease.

I understand that you are afraid of her cutting you out of her life if you try to help her, but standing by and not saying anything isn't going to do her any good either. Talk to your friend in a safe environment and let her know how worried you are about her in a loving and supportive manner. Since she will no doubt act defensive, be sure she knows that you will be there for her no matter what.

Is your friend in any kind of therapy or does she confide in any family members or friends? Someone suffering from an eating disorder has to be ready to get treatment on their own unless they are clearly putting their life at risk - in which case someone must step in. From the way you are describing her daily routine, it sounds like she is unfortunately in that category. Hospitalization sounds like the best thing for her right now. Being a friend or relative of someone suffering from a severe eating disorder can make you have feelings of guilt, anxiety, and confusion, but know that no matter how hard you try, the decision is ultimately up to her, so feel good about being her friend and doing everything you can. The National Eating Disorders Association and The Aware Foundation are great resources for asking questions and 24 hour hot lines for both sufferers of eating disorders and family and friends wanting to help.

As for your trip, you need to do whatever makes you feel comfortable. If vacationing with someone this sick is going to cause you more anxiety than fun, don't go. Eating disorders are manageable with a lot of hard work and a great support system, so at the end of the long road, your friend is going to be extremely grateful to have someone like you in her life. Good luck.


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