How can you support a friend who has an eating disorder? That question bothered Imogen Holmstead-Scott when she wanted to support her friend, Emerald (Em) Wafer.

Em (22) was diagnosed in 2011 and has undergone intensive treatment for her eating disorder.

Her friend Imogen (21) says that, although she studied psychology at university, she really struggled to find useful information on how to talk to someone who has an eating disorder.

“There is still a huge stigma around eating disorders,” Imogen (pictured left below) comments. “Many people think an eating disorder is about vanity, or people being self-obsessed.”

Reality not glamorous

Em sees eating disorders as almost glorified by society. 

“I used to think people with eating disorders must all be models with great willpower and perfect lives. The reality of it is not glamorous in the slightest. Eating disorders completely rob you of your own health, confidence, self-respect and ability to function.”

She recalls a nurse from Zimbabwe who was genuinely puzzled as to why someone would not eat when people in her country were starving. Emerald says she appreciated her blunt honesty.

“People tend to tiptoe around the issue when they know that someone has an eating disorder for fear of 'triggering' them,” she says. “The reality is that when I was at my worst, absolutely everything anyone would say would be triggering!”

Friendships and willpower support recovery

Em’s turning point came after the birth of her son James. A couple of months after James was born she relapsed badly and ended up being hospitalised.

“I missed James so much I finally realised that the only way to be there for him was to completely change my attitude, be totally honest with myself and decide to get better. I'm so glad I did, I've never looked back.”

What also helped Em were the caring friends, like Imogen, who visited her in hospital and supported her when things got tough.

Based on what had worked for them, and aided by a $5000 grant from the 2015 Sovereign Be the Difference Challenge, Imogen and Em came up with The Good Friends Project.

They interview those affected by eating disorders and their friends about what has been most helpful to recovery from eating disorders, and then publish that information as a series of tips on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.

For example, Em says, “Families have the biggest role. It’s good to support them with practical stuff. Mum said it was really nice to have someone else [Imogen] offering to help.”

Other tips include: writing letters, being a friend, acting normally around food, and keeping in touch.