People can, and do, recover from eating disorders, but professional help is often required. Unfortunately, the longer symptoms are denied or ignored, the more difficult recovery tends to be. If someone you know suffers from a possible eating disorder, it's important for them to seek help immediately. Family members and friends can also benefit from information and support.
You may find it difficult and stressful to approach someone you care about who has an eating disorder. You may wonder what to say, or be understandably worried about what will happen as a result. Rest assured, however, there are things you can do to offer support.
When you approach the individual for the first time, do not be surprised if they reject your expression of concern. They may react with anger or denial. For many folks, having an eating disorder corresponds with experiencing shame and pain. It's also important not to rush the person, and instead recognize that it will take time for the person to make changes.
It's important to understand that an eating disorder is a complex mental and physical illness that may also be a coping strategy for the individual. Remember: eating disorders are not about food or vanity! You may want to share what you have learnt with your family member or friend. You can also call the helpline or chat with us online for support and direction to relevant resources in your area.
Whether they act on it immediately or need more time to think is their decision to make. Learning about eating disorders, the warning signs, and symptoms can help you better understand how to help them as well as what resources are available for their particular illness.
Eating disorders are complex issues, and food and weight concerns could be symptoms of a deeper problem. It's important to understand that eating disorders are not a choice; the person would prefer to have healthier coping mechanisms and is doing the best they can at the moment. Show compassion for the pain and confusion that the individual is experiencing.
Encourage the person to see themselves as more than their eating disorder. Do this by talking about other aspects of your lives, and of life more generally. Affirm their strengths and interests that are unrelated to food or physical appearance.
It's important to express your own needs in the relationship without blaming or shaming the other person. Support them by validating the healthy changes that the person does make, however small they may seem. Remember that in the case of an adult with an eating disorder, decisions about when and how to get help, and what kind, are theirs to make.
Take Care of Yourself
Seeing someone you love struggling with an eating disorder might make you feel very scared, angry, frustrated or helpless. Be careful not to blame them. Try to understand that eating disorders are not a choice but a biologically-influenced mental illness. Your loved one may know that their condition is upsetting other people, but this may not make it any easier for them to change their behaviours.
Do not take on the role of a therapist. Do only what you feel capable of. Try to get support for yourself. You need to take care of yourself while dealing with your loved one and might benefit from speaking to a counsellor or health professional. You can locate support groups and counselling options for family members and friends of people with eating disorders using NEDIC's Service Provider Directory. Make sure you continue to take care of your own physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Remember that they can only get better at their own pace. You can be supportive and gently give them information. You can help them to see and consider alternatives. You cannot make them get better.