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Helping Someone with Anorexia Nervosa Eating Disorder

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The first task, before any help is offered, is to come to grips with the disorder. Read all you can about it and try to understand it isn’t a choice for anorexics. Anorexia nervosa really is a disease, and victims do not feel they are in control of their behavior. The more you learn, the better you will be able to deal with your loved one’s problem without getting overly emotional.

It starts with a minefield

Even the word anorexia comes with shame attached. No one wants that label, or even the more gentle phrase, “eating disorder.” Admitting there is a problem becomes an emotional minefield and it really helps to start the conversation in as neutral a manner as possible. Do this by focusing on the problem as a fixable problem and try to disconnect it from the individual.

Broaching the subject is hard, and you might get denial and resistance as the first response. Express your concerns about their health, but avoid commenting on how they look or their weight directly. Your feelings for them are important, but you have to stay away from the blame game.

Avoiding the minefield of emotional recriminations is best handled by creating a team effort with normal eating behaviors as the goal. Move the focus on where you want to get to instead of how things are now.

Stay away from fat

It’s called “fat prejudice” and it’s woven into our society. Anorexics are bombarded with the same messages we all get about weight, but they take it to heart. Don’t add to their pressure of wanting to be thin. You do this by looking at eating behaviors instead of weight.

It’s appropriate to talk about feelings, yours and theirs. Ask how they feel about their body or fears of getting fat. What you want to avoid is complimenting them on their looks or getting involved in dieting talk.

Help, don’t dominate

The best result of trying to help someone with anorexia nervosa is a partnership, not a tyranny. Power struggles get you nowhere.

It’s easy to slip into a nagging or accusatory mode. “Why don’t you eat something?” or “You really need to eat now.” are statements that add pressure and speak from authority. Better is to express your honest concerns and authentic feelings: “I’m worried because I saw you skipping lunch today.” or, “I can’t stop thinking about whether you are getting enough nutrition to stay healthy.”

Many of these suggestions and more will be offered by a professional therapist. Encourage your loved one to get help and ask the therapist what your role should be.