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How Can I Help? Understanding Our Loved One’s Eating Disorder


Helping a loved one with an eating disorder can be difficult if we don't have the right information. A lot of times our well-meaning intentions could be doing more harm than good.

One thing to realize when trying to understand eating disorders is that the problem is not about bad food habits or diets, but rather symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Overeating, binging, and restricting food are a person's attempts to deal with painful and uncomfortable emotions.

These types of behaviors allow a person to feel a certain amount of control and can also provide a temporary comfort from sadness, anger or loneliness. It is important to realize that over time people with eating disorders lose the ability to see their bodies objectively.

Approaching a Loved One

Many people with an eating disorder are often too afraid to ask for help because they can't find a way to start a conversation about their problem, while others struggle with very low self-esteem and wrongly believe that they don't deserve any help.

When trying to approach a friend or family member about his or her possible eating disorder, it's important to communicate your worries in a loving, non-judgmental and non-confrontational way. There is no perfect time and place to have this discussion, but it is a good idea to try to choose a place that is private and quiet, which will help you both stay positive, calm and focused.

Six Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Focus on feelings, not on weight and food. Share your concern and feelings towards recent changes in their behavior, discuss the signs you think point to an eating disorder and how these could be potential harmful for the person.
  2. Don't comment on the person's appearance. Even if you mean well by complimenting their bodies and trying to remind them that they look “fine just the way they are,” keep in mind that they already too self aware of their body and that these types of comments could reinforce their obsession with body image and weight.
  3. Don't demand change. Remember that people with eating disorder don't feel in control of their life and criticizing eating habits, demanding change or tricking a person into eating food could make things worse.
  4. Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt. Try to avoid accusatory statements and instead use “I” statements that channel your concern for your loved one.
  5. Don't offer simple solutions to a complex problem. Acknowledge the importance and complexity of the situation and try to work together on whatever anxieties your loved may be experiencing.
  6. Lastly remember that it may take some time before your loved one begins to open up and admit to having a problem.

Ultimately, the decision to get professional help and start on the path to recovery has to come from your loved one, but you can help by reminding him or her that you are willing to lend your support.