Does Violetta's 'Real World' Story Sound Familiar? We Talked To An Expert About Friends With Eating Disorders

Many of us have friends and family members who have struggled with food, but we don't always know the best way to help.

Any show called “Real World: Skeletons” is going to have its share of dark moments, but in tonight's all-new episode, we learn something about Violetta that is actually a scary reality for many of us.

Nicole, Jason and Tony notice that V has been dropping weight and N even tries to delicately suggest Violetta might be healthier getting up to 110 pounds (even though she is not a doctor, and does not know what a healthy weight is for someone of Violetta's height). Violetta also says that she just can't stand when people talk about her weight and wishes her housemates wouldn't intervene.

Does this story sound familiar to you? Many of us have friends and family members who have struggled with food, and we don't always know the best way to help. So, to gain some insight we turned to an expert.

Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas is a Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, a published author, a clinical psychologist and a Co-Director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She graciously shared a page of her book “Almost Anorexic” on dos and don’ts for talking with someone who might have an eating disorder, and also spoke exclusively to MTV on how to help if you suspect your friend might be struggling with food and self-esteem.

Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Jenni Schaefer/Hazelden

MTV: If someone suspects a friend might have an eating disorder, what should they do?

DR. THOMAS: Express your concerns openly, honestly, and in private.

MTV: What are important things to say and important things not to say when talking with someone who might have an eating disorder?

DR. THOMAS: It’s important to encourage your friend to get help from a parent, teacher, or health professional. He or she can get a free and confidential online screening at Almost Anorexic to see if she or he might benefit from a professional evaluation.

It’s not a good idea to promise to keep secrets about ongoing behaviors — eating disorders can be fatal!

MTV: If a friend is clearly struggling but insists they're fine, what do you recommend someone do?

DR. THOMAS: Continue to express your concern. It might take a few conversations for your friend to open up.

MTV: What professional help is available? What if someone can't afford to see a therapist or receive treatment?

DR. THOMAS: Help is available, and our research at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School suggests recovery is not only possible, but probable!

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most evidence-based treatment for adults with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Family-based treatment is the best supported treatment for adolescents with anorexia nervosa. There are also some FDA-approved medications such as fluoxetine for bulimia nervosa, and lisdexamfetamine dimesylate for binge eating disorder.

If you can’t find a professional, self-guided cognitive-behavioral therapy using the book "Overcoming Binge Eating" is also effective. Also, smartphone apps like Recovery Record can support using therapy principles at home.