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How to Talk to Someone with an Eating Disorder

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If someone you know is displaying any of the warning signs of an eating disorder, confronting this person can be difficult as you may fear offending him or her. It is a delicate subject, but your concerns are valid and voicing them could help save your loved one’s life.

People with eating disorders are often afraid to ask for help. Some can struggle just as much as you may be to initiate a conversation about their problem, while others can have such low self-esteem that they simply don’t feel like they deserve help.

Eating disorders tend to get worse without treatment, and the physical and emotional damage is detrimental. The sooner you reach out to a friend or family member, the better his or her chances of recovery.

How to Approach Someone Who May Have an Eating Disorder

When approaching someone about an eating disorder, it’s important to express your concerns in a caring, non-confrontational way. Pick a time when the two of you can speak in private, and try to remain calm, focused, positive, and respectful during the conversation.

The person’s initial response may be to deny having an eating disorder, or he or she could become angry and defensive. In these situations, it is important to avoid pushing the issue. If your loved one isn’t ready to open up and admit to having a problem, forcing him or her to talk about it will likely prove counterproductive.

But don’t give up; sometimes all someone needs is time. You can help by making it clear that you care about and support your loved one, and that you’ll be there when he or she is ready to confide in you and possibly seek treatment. As difficult as it is to know that someone you love has an eating disorder, you cannot force that person to change. Unless he or she is a young child, the decision to seek treatment is ultimately that person’s alone.

Tips for Talking to Someone Who Has an Eating Disorder

    Focus on specific times when you felt concerned about the person’s eating behavior. Explain that you think these behaviors may indicate that there is a problem.

    Share your concern about the person’s health, but respect his or her privacy. Eating disorders can be a cry for help, so the individual will likely appreciate that you care enough to say something.

    Use “I” statements like, “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat,” or, “It worries me to hear you vomiting,” as opposed to “you” statements such as, “You just need to eat,” or, “You’re acting irresponsibly,” which place blame on the person and can cause him or her to feel guilty.

    Try not to criticize the person’s eating habits or demand that he or she change. People with eating disorders are usually attempting to gain control because they feel they don’t have it. Trying to trick or force them into eating can make things worse.

    Avoid commenting on how the person looks. This person is already overly focused on his or her body, so even a compliment can reinforce the obsession with body image and weight.

    Try not to give simple solutions such as, "If you'd just stop, everything would be fine!" There is no simple solution to a serious problem like an eating disorder.

Source: Help Guide