How to Explain Anorexia to Family and Friends
Your family and friends probably don’t know much about anorexia nervosa. Unless they’ve run into the disorder before, they probably think it’s “something models get” and believe the simple solution is to pressure you to eat.
That’s not their fault, and if you respond to their good impulses with information, they may end up being a great source of support. The important thing is not to ignore them or their concerns. Your family and friends are very much aware of extremely low weight, fatigue and the other symptoms.
Start by explaining that anorexia is a medical condition and the symptom of an underlying problem. A calm, factual tone is best. You can talk about your condition with as little embarrassment as any other medical problem – if you had diabetes or a food allergy, it wouldn’t be a big deal to let people know. They will pick up on any shame you express, so talk about your problem in an unemotional and neutral way.
You can share with them how even a normal weight seems fat to you. Tell them how you’ve gotten into the habit of not eating, of exercising excessively, or even of purging. Trusted family members and friends will be curious, and there is no reason not to be honest. Share with them as much as you are comfortable with.
Your friends will be reassured if you tell them you are getting treatment and are following a diet plan. You can let them know the particulars and recruit them to help you by not interfering with your regimen. If you have had a recent weight gain or made some other significant progress, don’t be afraid to brag a little. They will be happy to hear about it.
Don’t get stuck in conversations about your appearance. It’s much better to talk about your emotions instead. Focusing on appearance is one way the unwanted behavior is reinforced, and you can mention this. Explain that the weight loss is a result of feelings, like depression or a sense of perfectionism.
Make sure everyone knows that small, incremental progress is normal. Don’t let them think you’ll gain weight overnight or “get better” just because you have a large meal. Tell them they support you best by listening in a non-judgmental way. They should know that making fun of your condition only makes it worse.
It’s also pretty handy to give someone a trusted resource so they can find out more about anorexia. Just make sure it’s a reliable, neutral source. You can even email them a link or two: http://www.eatingdisordersonline.com/explain/anorexia.php and http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anorexia/DS00606