Ways to help a loved one
Expressing your concern
Hesitation, nervousness, fear of saying the wrong thing, or dread at being mistaken. These may hold you back from saying something if you suspect a loved one has an eating disorder. But ignoring the potential problem won’t make it go away. Eating disorders get worse without treatment. Remember, anorexia nervosa is life threatening. The alternative to not speaking up could be tragic.
After you speak up, your loved one may be angry, express denial, or distance herself from you. Don’t be alarmed. Bringing up the eating disorder may feel threatening to your loved one. Focus on expressing your concern about your loved one’s happiness. Reassure her that you won’t abandon her.
Helping to find treatment
The next step is to help find treatment. The longer an eating disorder is untreated, the harder it is to treat. A healthcare provider can assess the signs and diagnose an eating disorder. Besides looking for any medical problems, the provider can also determine if other mental/emotional issues are present, such as substance abuse, depression, or anxiety.
Being supportive during recovery
It’s important to remember that recovery takes time and dedication. Express compassion, practice patience, and avoid unnecessary pressure. Your loved one already exerts enormous pressure on him- or herself; adding more won’t help the recovery. Each small step—whether a person with anorexia eats a full meal, someone with bulimia doesn’t purge after eating a bagel, or a person with binge eating disorder has one helping instead of three—is a victory. Praise each victory, even if it’s the same victory for five days in a row. If your loved one slips, remind her that progress isn’t perfection. A few steps sideways or backwards doesn’t mean failure; as we learn new behaviors, the old ones creep back in from time to time. Most importantly, loved ones will need your positive feedback and support throughout recovery.