Ask Shuli: Helping a Friend Fight Anorexia

silhouetteDear Shuli:
I had an uncomfortable moment at synagogue this week, when I noticed a former student visiting her parents. I haven’t seen her in months, and she looked way too thin—and unhealthy. I’m concerned she might be dealing with an eating disorder, but I don’t know how to approach this delicate topic. What should I do?
–Worried Teacher
Dear Worried:
You’re absolutely right—this is a really delicate topic, and it makes me cringe with motherly worry, just thinking of that young woman. You’re right to be concerned about your former student. Even if she’s NOT battling an eating disorder, too many young (and even older) women have unhealthy body images, overdo it on the dieting and exercise, and obsess about their weight. Shuli says: Masbik! Enough, already!
If she is indeed suffering through an eating disorder, as a friend and former teacher—what can you do? Do your homework, naturally. According to the National Eating Disorders Association: Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences.
If you’ve noticed your student’s excessive weight loss, self-starvation or extreme concern with weight and body shape, it’s important to communicate your concern to this young woman (and possibly her parents) in a kind and supportive way.
It’s also crucial to bring up your worries early on, says the National Eating Disorders Association. Don’t wait until this young woman suffers some of the horrible physical and emotional damage of eating disorders. I’m very sorry to say I’ve seen this in too many friends and relatives of my own.
You may be concerned about embarrassing yourself or trying to “confront” a young woman in denial (or parents in denial), but trust me: the risks are nothing compared to the price of silence.
Photo: hn