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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Should I do anything if I notice someone who clearly has an eating disorder?

    There is a girl in my yoga class who literally looks like a skeleton. There’s no question she’s anorexic. It must be apparent to everyone who sees her so I wonder if I should say anything or if someone is already helping her. I also have never spoken to her so I don’t want to come off as rude! Also she could totally deny it. Could someone suggest something?
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  • Karen Amos

    Counsellor, Personal Trainer

    Walk and Talk is just what you need to begin living a life that you love. I'm Karen Amos and at Walk and Talk Australia … View Profile

    The best thing you can do is not make assumptions and not judge a person. But you can be by their side. You can practice yoga next to her. Maybe she might be a person who can become a friend and in that way you may be able to support her. But all the while, if she is anorexic, she is having complete issues of her own that probably don't include you or anybody else. Judging her and making assumptions about her is not something that will help. I would approach her with kindness and rather than directly addressing the subject like anorexia, just be a friend.

  • Kyla Holley

    Counsellor, Psychotherapist

    Kyla is the Director of The Australian Centre for Eating Disorders (ACFED) and specialises in evidence-based treatments for sufferers of Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, … View Profile

    I agree with Karen, you can't approach a woman you've never spoken to with a diagnosis of anorexia. You know nothing about her circumstances, health, or state of mind.
    If you do become friends, she may introduce the subject of her weight, or she may chose to ignore it. 
    You may discover she has been thin her entire life and has always struggled to gain weight, you may find that she has an illness that means she has very little appetite, or you may indeed discover she has anorexia or bulimia. Whatever the outcome, she can only benefit from professional help when she decides to make changes in her life. 
    Interventions from others may have a short term effect, but to achieve a long term solution the decision must be led by the individual, not by a concerned friend or relative.

  • Julie Wilson

    Psychologist

    Psychologist, Family Therapist and Dog Therapy handler who is passionate about working with individuals, families and couples of all ages who are experiencing disordered eating. … View Profile

     I agree with the previous responses that it is probably best to be more of a friend rather than say something, and there maybe an opportunity to introduce the topic as a friend rather than a stranger.
    The tricky thing about anorexia is that for the person who has it, they have a distorted perception about their appearance. When they look at themselves, or see a reflection of themselves they see an image that is very different to reality. While you see an extremely underweight person, they see a sumo wrestler. Even if you did say something, they might not be able to take it on board in that moment - however they may be able to use it as evidence to recover when they are ready to.
    If you are concerned about her physical state, because some yoga can get pretty strenuous, you could approach the teacher and discuss your concerns. It is appropriate and ideal, for the teacher to monitor and manage the physical well being of participants. 
    Another consideration maybe that this young woman is already getting help, as yoga is a strategy to manage anxiety. I usually recommend it to people, who are physically stable, as a way to manage stress as opposed to using or restricting food.

    best wishes

  • 2

    Agrees

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    Thanks

    The Butterfly Foundation was founded in August 2002 by Claire Vickery who found many ‘gaps’ in the public health system for those experiencing eating disorders. … View Profile

    All comments that have been made are spot on and a great way to respond to this situation. From a Butterfly Foundation perspective, it is vitally important that this person does not feel like they are being attached or judged. People with an eating disorder often want to hide this fact and there are usually other issues in this persons life that they are dealing with. It is important to know that it is not just a matter of getting them to eat food or suggest that they have a problem.

    Letting this person know that you are a friend and building trust with them is the first step. Allowing them to open up to you will come in time and then listening to them rather than telling them what to do is key.

    As I mentioned eating disorders are a serious mental illness with some people and therefore it is not an easy solution. It requires care, sensitivity, understanding and a gentle approach.

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