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Friend Is Bulimic

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I'm a 16-year-old girl and very concerned about a close friend of mine. We used to share secrets all the time. She confided to me that she's bulimic. I've done that before, but I was scared of what would happen, so I stopped. I tried to tell her that she needs to stop and tell her mother, but she says that she does it to get back at her mother. She disapproves of her mother's new boyfriend. I haven't had any luck in convincing her to stop.

We weren't friends for a while because I lost her trust. Our friendship is getting back to where it was before, but I'm afraid of losing her again. That's why I haven't told anyone about this. How can I help?

A: You know from personal experience how easily bulimia can creep up on you and how hard it is to stop. I'm not clear on how your friend thinks she is "getting back" at her mom by being bulimic. Has she told her mother that she is doing this and won't stop it, hoping that her mom will feel like a horrible parent? What does she hope to gain from this behavior?

I can understand how you don't want to jeopardize your close friendship again with this girl. You can be her good friend, but you can't be her parent or her therapist. Perhaps you could encourage her to go to a therapist or school counselor so she can get some advice on how to function healthily in her family. I don't think she'll be very responsive to your trying to convince her to go to a therapist solely for her bulimia. You might also offer to go to a therapist with her for moral support, asking her to go with you so she could learn better ways to cope with her family problems. You might also engage some of your mutual friends to brainstorm ways that she can feel better in her family life. You can ask friends to do this for her without mentioning her bulimia.

It sounds like her family needs to see a therapist so that she and her mom could have a chance at having a healthy relationship. Do you know an adult who's a friend of her mom's who might be able to suggest this idea to her mom? I know that you feel helpless right now in terms of helping out your friend. Try a few of my suggestions and then write back to me with an update. She's very lucky to have you as a friend.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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