It is difficult to know what to do if a person you know has an eating disorder. While you ultimately do not have control over another person’s behavior, you do have control over what you choose to do about it. It is important that you express your concern and offer to help even if the person struggling with the eating disorder does not react positively. Arm yourself with the appropriate knowledge, and be persistent. While it is difficult, your support is essential to your loved one’s recovery. If you have observed eating disorder behaviors in a loved one or friend, say something. The sooner you confront the issue, the better.
How do you go about talking with someone you suspect has a problem?
- Select a private location and allow plenty of time for both of you to say what needs to be said.
- Be empathetic and understanding. Your friend or loved one needs to feel accepted and understood and recognize that asking for help is not a weakness.
- Remain calm and speak from your own observations and experience. Use “I” statements, and focus on the underlying issues, not the behaviors.
- Be prepared with information about resources for treatment. Ask your friend or loved one to consider going to one appointment, and offer to accompany him or her.
- Expect to be rejected in the beginning. Do not argue, but be persistent by communicating your feelings and experience with the situation.
- Accept there is a limit to what you can do for another person. Remember that your friend or loved one can refuse treatment. However, if you believe his or her life to be in danger, seek immediate help from a professional. The professional will be able to recommend a course of action.
Once the individual enters treatment for the eating disorder, be patient. Each case is unique. Ask the healthcare professional for advice on how to help the individual in treatment.
- Avoid blaming the eating disorder on someone or something, and don’t demand that the individual stop the behaviors. Don’t bribe, punish, or reward the individual to control the eating behavior.
- Friends or family members need to verbalize their experience and deal with their feelings.
- Hug your friend or loved one; demonstrate unconditional love.
- Do not make physical appearance a focus. Stay away from any topic related to weight.
- Do not be pushed into any special treatment of the individual. Giving into this whim only hinders the individual’s recovery.
- Do not monitor the individual’s behavior. Even if he or she asks, it will only backfire in the end.
- Maintain the family’s normal eating patterns.
- Be firm, consistent, and accept your limitations. Learn to set rules. Do not try and become a substitute for professional care.