Eating disorders usually involve significant disturbances in eating behaviors – counting calories obsessively, throwing up after meals to relieve guilt, bingeing on food in secret and following rigid diets.
Watching someone you care about damage their health is not easy, especially when the solution appears to be simple at first glance. Eating disorders, however, are more complicated than unhealthy habits. These problems, at their core, are a way to handle emotional issues and entail self-critical and distorted attitudes about body image, food and weight. These negative feelings and thoughts can fuel destructive behaviors.
Although you can’t force an individual with this type of problem to change, you can take steps to encourage treatment and offer your support. This can make a major difference to the recovery of your loved one.
Here are a few suggestions to help someone you care about address and potentially overcome their eating disorder:
- Educate Yourself
If you want to support your friend or family struggling with an eating disorder, you’ll need to learn more about this condition. Understanding the basic facts can be an excellent place to start. One of the facts that you’ll learn about eating disorders is that they’re not choices. Instead, they’re seriously biologically influenced illnesses. Even if this condition began as a diet, your loved one didn’t choose for it to tip over into a disorder.
You can educate yourself by checking out information published by major eating disorder organizations. When reading up on the subject matter, don’t forget to look up possible treatment options, such as a treatment plan for bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating.
- Provide Meal Support
A tangible thing you can do to support a friend or a family member with an eating disorder is to help support their eating or eat with them. You could even suggest going food shopping with them.
Meals can be highly challenging for individuals with an eating disorder. Yet, this is something that they need to do every day. They may have a difficult time with decisions on what to eat and may feel increased anxiety before, after and during meals. What’s more, they may experience urges to throw up after eating.
Higher levels of care, such as partial hospitalization programs and residential treatment centers, offer support around meals. As for individuals in the outpatient setting, having people with whom to eat can be incredibly helpful. Whether over video chat or in person, sharing a meal can be a great way to support someone with an eating disorder.
- Interact Outside of Meals
An eating disorder can be a painfully isolating illness, as this can make socializing more difficult. If you can, do your best to spend time with your loved one or friend with an eating disorder outside of meals.
Make the effort to engage the person in activities that do not revolve around exercise or eating. During summer, for instance, suggest productive summer break activities, such as learning a new skill or hitting the road. Other suggestions include watching a movie at home, running errands together or just hanging out.
Even if your friend or loved one resists, do not give up on them. Keep trying and maintain the connection.
- Challenge the Diet Culture
Some health experts believe that a way to minimize eating disorders is to challenge societal structures together with the billion-dollar diet industry in the United States that maintain the focus on being thin.
If you want to show support for an individual with an eating disorder, you could offer counter messages. You could, for instance, discourage dieting and encourage the acceptance of bodies of all shapes.
Diet culture is everywhere. Avoiding it is next to impossible. If you can, though, try to cut down the reminders that you can control.
- Show Care and Compassion
Listen to the problems of your friend or loved one non-judgmentally. An individual with an eating disorder may likely experience increased levels of self-loathing and emotional pain. A couple of effective ways to show your support is to tell them that you care about them a lot, and that you are available to help them. Don’t forget to give them adequate space to talk about what they’re feeling right now and what’s going on for them.
- Be Patient
You have to remember that accepting or acknowledging an eating disorder takes time. This means that your friend or loved one will take time accepting their situation and seeking help. They may initially see their eating as a solution to cope with certain negative feelings.
If you want to help, do your best not to be upset if they refuse treatment or support. Instead, encourage them to bounce back and keep aiming for recovery.
Helping someone with an eating disorder can be tough. The road to recovery can be bumpy. If you’ve decided to help, buckle up and get ready for a long journey.