(How) does one approach an adult friend who has developed an eating disorder?

I’ve been witnessing a very good friend practically withering away from starving herself, and I don’t know how to deal with this. It’s rare enough for people to develop body dysmorphia in middle age, although I am certain it’s related to a fear of aging.

I am inclined to MMOB. She has a partner who is clearly aware, and I don’t want to overstep any boundaries.

Having said that, it is increasingly difficult for me to watch her push lovingly prepared food around on her plate forever, then claiming she’s full & passing her leftovers (basically the OG plate content) to her partner to finish.

I am worried.

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First, are you sure there isn’t some physical cause, like an illness that’s affecting her appetite? If it’s emotional, though, I empathize. I have a friend who has bouts of disordered eating. She had a gastric bypass many years ago and still has a very complicated relationship with food. We just went out to dinner the other night, and she spent the whole time stirring her bibimbap without eating a bite of it. She had it wrapped to go, and I suspect she ate it once she was alone. She seems to be at a healthy weight, though, so I don’t say anything.

If you are close to your friend’s partner, maybe you could ask them what’s going on. If not, I’d probably go with your first instinct to just keep your worries to yourself, at least until someone reaches out to you.


If possible, speak privately to the partner to see if you can learn more about what may be troubling her. Take it from there - at least you should be on the right side of the boundary.


Thank you! She’s pretty tall and has never been overweight (we’ve known each other for almost 20 years now), but a couple of years ago she got absolutely obsessed with working out - it’s damn near all she ever talks about :roll_eyes: :roll_eyes: :roll_eyes:. She was obsessed about her “wings” and doing all kinds of exercises to get rid of them. I told her at some point that you don’t lose weight working out, but that most weight loss is all about eating or, rather, NOT eating.

So, on top of all this I almost feel like I am partly responsible for her hunger artist regimen :zipper_mouth_face:

She’ll be out of town for a while, so I’ll see if we can approach her partner, and whether he has any input. It’s obvious he noticed - and how could he not? her legs are like matchsticks at this point. He recently even made a comment about how he’s expected to finish her plate these days. Maybe with a concerted effort / some sort of intervention we can help her get back to normal.

@small_h when we first noticed her “loss of appetite” and weight loss, we approached a mutual friend, worried that she was dealing with a serious illness. She is not.

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Oh, that does sound an eating disorder. Maybe her partner could try to get her into therapy. Hopefully next time she goes for a physical, her doctor will say something.

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If you want to suggest an intervention to her husband, I would suggest you go armed with some locally recommended professionals and some information about programs, preferably residential. If things are as severe as they sound, this seems to have become an addiction rather than a disorder, and as difficult to treat as an addiction to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc.

(I’d also like to suggest that you try to really limit your social interactions with her to ones that don’t involve food, since if this is an addiction those situations are likely to be very stressful to her.)


Definitely sounds like an eating disorder. We went through this with my dad although we didn’t recognize it as an eating disorder until he was well into it. He claimed he was pre-diabetic (despite normal A1Cs) and obsessively restricted his diet. In hindsight, it was likely the beginnings of his dementia and manifested at about 70 years of age. I’m sorry.

Agree with the suggestion to talk to the partner if you have a good relationship. As you likely know already, eating disorders not the result of healthy decision-making and can’t be remedied by a conversation. Ideally the partner can get medical professionals involved.

This is serious - I have two acquaintances who died of heart failure secondary to extreme anorexia.