Accessing Care

Worried about a Friend

If you are concerned that a friend’s eating or exercise habits have become problematic, you are not alone. Disordered eating behaviors such as chronic dieting or food restriction, self-induced vomiting, bingeing, and overexercise are very common on college campuses. A person might be in recovery from an eating disorder and behaviors have resurfaced due to the transition to college or other life stressors. Someone else might have always had a healthy relationship with food but suddenly develops harmful behaviors as a way to cope with stress or anxiety. Chances are that within your dorm, your classes, your circle of friends, you know at least one person who’s struggling with their relationship with food. And you can help. You might be the one person who cares enough to start the conversation, and open the door to resources so your friend can seek help.

Some things you might have noticed:

  • Food restriction, elimination (such as sugar, carbs, fats), or experimenting with fad diets (such as Paleo, keto, low carb, Whole 30, “clean eating”)

  • Disappearing soon after a meal, often to the bathroom

  • Sudden avoidance of situations where there is likely to be food present

  • Excessive time spent at the gym or working out, often in place of usual social activities

  • Social isolation- lack of interest in activities once enjoyed

  • Increased irritability, moodiness

  • Notable change in weight, up or down (Note: not everyone with an eating concern experiences a change in weight).

You may notice one or a few of these symptoms, or perhaps something that is not listed here, but still just doesn’t seem right to you. It’s worth starting the conversation with your friend. Very often, people suffer in silence out of embarrassment or denial. Knowing that you care may help your friend take the first step towards healing.

What should I say?

Pick a time to talk when it’s quiet and there aren’t too many distractions around. Use “I” statements when discussing your concerns or observations. Instead of commenting directly on your friend’s physical change in appearance or eating behaviors, focus your observations on their overall health, mood, and wellbeing.

  • “We always used to have lunch together. I feel like I haven’t seen you recently”.
  • “I’ve noticed you seem more tired and stressed out than usual”.
  • “I was bummed you missed my birthday gathering. It’s not like you to miss those things- you seem really distracted lately”.

If you feel it’s better to be more direct:

  • “I noticed you’ve stopped going to the Ratty with us and you only eat food you’ve prepared yourself. I’m worried about you”.

What should I expect?

It would be pretty common for your friend to minimize or downplay your concerns, or brush them off entirely. In this case, you may have to be satisfied to have expressed your concerns directly, and let it be for now. Let them know you’re always available to talk, and that you care about them.

It’s also possible that your friend will be incredibly relieved and grateful that someone has recognized their distress and is offering support. If they’re willing to talk about it, just listen with empathy, validating your friend’s struggle. If they make self-deprecating comments such as “I’m fat” or “I need to work out more”, realize that you cannot rationalize with your friend right now. One of the hallmarks of an eating disorder is body image distortion- what your friend sees in the mirror is very different from what you see, and you won’t be able to convince them otherwise. Instead, empathize and offer help. “This must be so hard for you. I know these issues are pretty common in college. Do you think you could talk to a professional about it? I can help you, or even go with you if you’d like”.

What if there are medical concerns?

If you are concerned that your friend may be in some medical jeopardy and feel you must do more than just express your concerns to them, you may need to ask for additional help -- from family, a medical provider, or other professionals. You can also talk to an RPL, an athletic trainer, a Dean of Student Life, Counseling and Psychological Services, or the registered dietitian or a medical provider in Health Services for more advice.

Where to go for help

One of the most helpful things you can do is facilitate the person's accessing professional help. For Brown students, this is where Health Services, and Counseling and Psychological Services come in. At Health Services, a registered dietitian nutritionist is available to see students individually to help evaluate their nutritional status and eating patterns. Medical providers can  perform physical exams and a medical evaluation. Counseling & Psychological Services evaluates the overall eating disorder in the context of the person's current and past life, providing treatment recommendations.

On-Campus Resources

Health Services Dietitian 401-863-3558
Confidential information or care is available through individual appointments with a Registered Dietitian.  Students can discuss personal eating concerns, as well as any concerns they may have regarding a friend, a roommate, or a teammate. There are no fees for these services.

University Health Services 401.863-3953
Confidential information and care is available on a walk-in, or by scheduled appointment basis. Care is available for initial, current or past disordered eating patients. There are no fees for medical care at Health Services. However, there may be fees incurred if laboratory tests, medications, specialist or emergency hospital care is needed.

Counseling and Psychological Services 401.863-3476 
Confidential appointments are available at Counseling and Psychological Services for students concerned about their eating issues. Guidance is also available for those who are concerned about a friend, roommate, or teammates' eating. Services include crisis intervention, short-term psychotherapy and referrals. There are no fees for appointments at Counseling and Psychological Services.

Student Support Services 401.863-3145
Student Support Services can assist with academic accommodations when required for treatment and recovery.

  • 401.863-2794
    Health Promotion
  • 401.863-3953
    Health Services
  • 401.863-3558
    Nutrition Appointment Line
  • 401.863-6000
    Sexual Assault Response Line
  • 401.863-4111
  • 401.863-3476
    Counseling & Psychological Services
  • 401.863-4111