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Helping A Loved One With An Eating Disorder: 5 Ways To Show Your Support

Knowing someone who struggles with an eating disorder can often leave us feeling unsure of how to help and afraid of making it worse. While the responsibility to get well ultimately lies with the individual there are a few things you can do to support them in their journey to wellness.

  1. Express Your Concern: It is normal to feel afraid or worried about bringing up a loved ones’ eating disorder. It is critical, however, that you do. When you express your concerns be careful of the language you use. For someone with anorexia or bulimia there is no such thing as “too thin” and using language similar to this (ex: “you are so skinny” etc) only reinforces her need to work harder at starving herself. Instead, comment on your concern for her because she doesn’t look well, looks sick or looks like she is suffering.
  2. Listen Attentively:  People struggling with disordered eating often carry around a lot of painful emotion. If you hear them talking about their pain, really listen to what they are saying. Instead of offering advice on how to get better, support her in what is going on for her. Try to be as non-judgmental as possible so that she feels safe opening as this will increase your ability to eventually get her the help she needs.
  3. Focus On Her Accomplishments Not Her Eating: Although someone who struggles with an eating disorder is hyper-focused on food, simply getting her to eat won’t make the eating disorder go away. Underneath the unfaltering desire to be thin is a deep hurt that is causing anxiety. Rather than force-feeding her, show you care by reinforcing what she is doing well. TEll her how much you love her and how proud of her you are. Support her in developing a healthy relationship to food.
  4. Help Her Feel In Control:  One of the most common things that someone struggling with an eating disorder will tell you (if she admits she is struggling) is that the eating disorder is the only thing she can control. What she doesn’t realize is that the eating disorder is actually robbing her of all control as her health becomes more at risk. If she mentions control to you, ask her in what areas of her life she feels she has the least control and how this is impacting her. Speak to her strengths and abilities and help her see that with the right resources she can regain control of all areas of her life not just her eating.
  5. Seek Professional Health:  Trying to help someone with an eating disorder can be very emotional and at times exhausting. It’s important not to take on the responsibility for someone else’s wellness as your own. While she may beg you to keep her secret, sharing your struggle with a professional can alleviate your anxieties over her well-being and help guide you in how to deal with her. Don’t delay in seeking help for yourself if you get stressed.


{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Wak March 6, 2012, 7:58 pm

    I wish every parent could read this when their kids are very young. Every word is golden. I wish I had could have read this 11 years ago.I do wonder whether prevention of EDs in childhood necessarily protects from EDs in adulthood. Let’s assume that a child who is predisposed to manifesting an ED has parents who do all of the above and keep the child well-nourished right up until the time the grown child goes out into the world on her own. What would happen to that person if she were to experience some malnutrition then, say from illness or dietary changes or increased exercise without increased nutrition? Would ED then strike this formerly healthy young adult? When we are young and having fun, those of us without EDs can indulge in all sorts of odd behaviors with eating and stay healthy, such as postponing or skipping meals and having just popcorn or ice cream for dinner, that people who are susceptible to EDs just can’t do. But you just don’t know whether you are that ED person until it happens to you.I guess we can turn ourselves inside out contemplating the what ifs , and I know that if a loved-one has an ED we must just do everything possible to help them become healthy again. And I sincerely hope that prevention of EDs in childhood can protect from EDs in adults.

    • kaela March 8, 2012, 3:41 pm

      Excellent points Wak! Thanks for sharing. It is true that sometimes as parents you can do all you possibly can to try and prevent your child from developing an eating disorder and sometimes it just isn’t enough. You are also right that sometimes we don’t know whether we can handle different food/health/life challenges and keeping an eating disorder at bay until we are faced with that challenge. Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder and to experience all the pain an eating disorder causes, often it sadly starts because the person doesn’t feel they have access to any other possibility (and they usually don’t believe it will torment them the way it does for as long as it often does). Thanks for your valuable input Wak.

    • George March 24, 2012, 10:13 am

      Try calorie snhitfig, the idea behind the diet is to instead of avoiding food, embrace it and use it to your benefit to improve your metabolism. This way you’ll actually continue to burn fat even once you stop the diet.The major problem with all diets that limit your calorie intake is that they as a result weaken and lower the effect of your metabolism on the foods you eat and actually make your body much more prone to storing calories as a result. Much like when an animal goes into hibernation, your body will go into scarcity mode and begin holding onto anything it can.That’s the main reason that people experience rebound effects from diets. Calorie snhitfig actually does it right because it changes the way your body utilizes food and as a result you lose weight and keep it off when you stop.I’ll throw in a link to a popular calorie snhitfig diet program in my source box for you to learn more about it.

      • kaela April 7, 2012, 2:55 pm

        Thanks George and sorry for the delay in my response. You are right that it is so important to learn to appreciate foods and that when we restrict or diet our bodies start storing all the calories we take in as a way of protecting itself. Thanks for your input!

      • Sachin June 12, 2012, 12:05 pm

        the media plays a major part in eating deosrdirs, i just need to say everyone is beautiful and don’t let something or someone say you aren’t. people are worth so much but don’t realise it, i had a best friend with an eating disorder and she is still battling but i want to say to her and all others suffering be strong and your family and friends won’t judge, they love you for being you not for being a certain size. forget what the photoshopped images look like YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL<3

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