Sometimes the hardest thing to do for a friend is support them when they need it most. I know that when I had my eating disorder it was really difficult to find someone who offered the support that I needed. It wasn’t because people didn’t want to support me, it was because they didn’t know how to. Here’s a list of different ways you can support someone with an eating disorder. I want to make it clear that I’m not giving any medical advice and if you think a friend or family member needs immediate attention, please get it for them, do not wait. This list includes different suggestions that I feel are the best things you could do to support someone with an eating disorder. Always remember that no matter how dark and painful an eating disorder is, there is always hope and recovery is always possible!
Educate Yourself & Know the Symptoms
The best thing you can do is educate yourself about the types of eating disorders out there and the different symptoms for them. This is not only important for understanding someone with a disorder but also identifying when someone may be at risk for developing one. Prevention is possible and it saves lives. If you identify an eating disorder in the early stages the ability of your loved one to make a full recovery is incredibly higher. I know that there were many warning signs for me but not many people said anything.
When You See Warning Signs, Act Immediately
When you see a pattern of symptoms and warning signs of an eating disorder please talk with your loved one. If it is a child or a minor, let the parent know of your concerns and how you are worried for the child. I know that discussing a childs’ health is taboo so be gentle and caring, early intervention is key. (Special Note: If you are a staff member at a school and you talk to the minor about your concerns of them having an eating disorder please also follow up with their family, if a student doesn’t trust you they are not going to open up to you).
Talk to Your Loved One
When choosing to talk to a loved one make sure you approach this situation with as much support and care that you can offer. The time and place should be one that is private, safe and free of distractions. When picking out a time try to avoid meal times and please do not spring it on someone. If you just show up at any time to have this talk, your friend may feel attacked and feel like they need to defend themselves, this is not a way to get them to open up to you and may in fact encourage them to lie to you. When you do begin talking to them use specific examples of when you saw a warning sign or an example of a symptomatic behavior. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements, here are a few examples: “I’m concerned when you go to the gym multiple times a day or I’m afraid you’ll get sick if you continue to miss meals.” Avoid statements that are accusatory like “You just need to eat”. Continue to share your feelings and do not threaten a friend to stop their behavior or offer simple solutions like “just eat”. Offer to accompany them to a doctor or therapist that can offer real care. Remind them about how much you care and how you are there for support.
Be an Example
This is not only important because of preventative measures but also because it encourages positive behavior from friends who are struggling. Tell yourself positive affirmations when you stop in a restroom instead of saying negative comments about your weight or body. Live to be healthy and happy, practice self-acceptance and love. It does rub off on others!
If you are having a difficult time supporting a friend, let them know. Don’t ignore them or the problem just gently let them know you need to take a step back or a smaller role because you are having a difficult time but you still care and support them. Take care of yourself and do not feel guilty. Eating disorders are serious and you need to take care of yourself as well. Eating disorders need to be worked on with a trained medical professional.
I’m glad you joined me for another post in my “I Never Knew” series. It’s incredibly important to offer support to a loved one who is struggling with any disorder. I hope that this offered a little help and guidance for anyone who needs it. Most of these came from my own experience and what I wanted or needed most from my support system. If you have more questions ask me here but I also encourage you to go to www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.