Talking to someone about their eating disorder, especially if they are a loved one, is never an easy thing to do. It will require a great deal of sensitivity and tact. Nowadays, eating disorders may be even more difficult to detect with all the fad diets that are so popular.
It’s easy for an eating disorder to be disguised under the guise of a healthy diet or detox cleanse. But if you notice someone acting differently when it comes to eating, losing a significant amount of weight in a short period of time, or otherwise severely restricting their diet, it may be time to have a talk.
It’s always a good idea to prepare yourself and do some research before talking to someone about their eating disorder. There are many resources available to get you to better understand what’s it’s like to have anorexia, bulimia, or another disorder.
Below are a few things to keep in mind when you first approach the person you believe needs help:
-Try not to approach them during a meal, or any other time that food is present. This will tend to make the person feel even more stressed and uncomfortable. Pick a quieter time when there is no food around and the two of you won’t be disturbed.
-Start off by reminding the person that you care about them and that they don’t have to suffer alone.
-Offer your support in getting them help and encourage them to do so.
-Be sure not to bring up their appearance or weight.
-Don’t place blame on anyone, especially the individual.
-Stay calm, focused, and be prepared to listen. Never allow yourself to get angry or judgemental.
-Remember there’s only so much you can do to help. Don’t try to take on the role of a therapist or counselor, simply offer your support and express your concern. You can guide the person to getting help if they are open to it.
Be prepared for a defensive or angry reaction from the person you are talking to. It’s likely that they may also try to deny they have a problem. Remember to stay calm and remind the person that you are only confronting them out of concern, not out of judgement. If they are extremely underweight, it may be time to turn them over to the care of a doctor or hospital in order to save their life.
Some things that you should definitely not say to a person with an eating disorder include:
-You need to just eat like everyone else. This implies that their disorder is a choice that can simply be changed, when it’s really about a complex mental and biological disorder that keeps the person from having a normal relationship with food.
-Let me feed you and help you gain weight. This kind of approach doesn’t take the person’s feelings or the complexity of their disorder into consideration. You don’t have the power to “fix” the person’s relationship to food.
-You look really awful and unhealthy. Appearance is a very sensitive subject for someone with an eating disorder, so it’s best to not bring it up.
-You’re hurting me/our family, relationship, etc. Trying to make the person feel guilty is never a good idea. It will simply cause more emotional pain and stress.
-You need to get over this in a month/6 months, etc. Placing a deadline on the person’s recovery will only add more pressure to an already stressful situation and will cause them to feel like they have another unrealistic standard to live up to.