How To Support Someone With An Eating Disorder
“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help people discover it themselves” – Galileo Galilei
According to B-eat, around 1.6 million people in the UK are suffering with eating disorders, so it’s likely that you will know and care about someone who has to live with their mind fighting their body 24/7. It’s incredibly hard to explain what it’s like living with an eating disorder, I would liken it to having a best friend who promises you complete happiness if you follow their “little rules” and then somehow before you know it you’re left completely isolated and broken, both physically and mentally. Of course, that’s a very hard reality to imagine if you’ve never experienced that. However, with the right approach and positive encouragement towards appropriate treatment, sufferers can really take great steps towards recovery and a happier life. I’ve put together some tips from family members who have supported me throughout my successful recovery from Anorexia.
1. Educate yourself
The media tends to portray eating disorders as only being experienced by young women who are concerned with being thin and attractive. Of course, this may be true in some cases, but there are many reasons why an eating disorder may have developed. Eating disorders are not usually about food, but more as a way of coping and gaining control in your life. People of all backgrounds, ages and genders can suffer from various problems, so it’s definitely not a “black and white” disorder, but all shades of grey.
2. Communication is key
I would say this is the most important aspect of supporting someone in recovery. A safe and encouraging environment can really help sufferers feel comfortable and able to express themselves. Also, discussing your own thoughts and queries with them is a great way to offload and keep an open and honest dialogue going. Stay away from using blaming language, it isn’t anyone’s fault and it will just create tension and negativity. Be sure to use statements like “I feel that” rather than “You just have to”, which can sound disapproving.
3. Help them focus on their interests.
During my recovery I had some times where I felt like a giant walking eating disorder, but I found that having people help me rediscover my interests really helped me move towards “normality”. Of course, this has to be on their terms, but a gentle push towards becoming more social can definitely relieve the horrible isolation and mood fluctuations that sufferers often feel.
4, Be firm but fair
People with eating disorders are quite adept at hiding their negative behaviours. It’s important that you don’t enable these so as to not risk upsetting them. In a calm and non-judgemental manner, you can discuss together how to manage temptations and work towards healthier coping mechanisms. Offering reassuring statements of support and love can stop any negative feelings they may have that you are “out to get them” or “trying to sabotage their efforts”. This can be easier said than done, but ultimately an eating disorder is much more dangerous than a conversation.
Eating disorders can take their toll on the mental and physical health of everyone involved, so it’s important to take some time out in order to gather your thoughts and wind down. This would be a great opportunity to involve the person in some family time or relaxation. After all, even though it may feel like it, you haven’t lost them; they just need some help getting on the right path again.
Have you ever helped someone recover from an eating disorder? Share you tips and experience in the comments below.