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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.