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How Could You Best Help People With Eating Disorders

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Anorexia Causes And Effects


There are no simple answers to the causes of anorexia. Anorexia is a complex condition that arises from a combination of many social, emotional, and biological factors. Although our cultures idealization of thinness plays a powerful role, there are many other contributing factors, including:

  • Body dissatisfaction
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Other traumatic experiences
  • Family history of eating disorders

Supports For People With Eating Disorders

You can find more information on eating disorders and on how to support a friend with an eating disorder through:

How Do Teens Cope

It is very natural for teens who feel anxious or stressed to seek ways to reduce their negative feelings and thoughts. Some positive coping strategies include participating in sports, creative arts or volunteer work. Each of these strategies can help reduce their stress and increase their self-esteem and resilience.

On the other hand, there are many coping strategies that may actually create more harm than good and interfere with a teen’s daily life, personal development and mental and physical health. Extreme dieting and the pursuit of thinness, along with alcohol and substance abuse or antisocial behaviours, are examples of unproductive and unhealthy strategies teens may choose to feel better, less anxious and more in control. Unfortunately, these behaviours usually cause more distress and isolation and may result in the development of eating disorders and/or addictions.

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Actions For This Page

  • If you think your family member is in physical danger or at risk of harming themselves, call triple zero .
  • If you think someone you care about might have an eating disorder, it can be difficult to know when and how to talk to them to discuss your concerns.
  • Learn about the signs and symptoms of eating disorders so you know what to look out for.
  • Find out how best to approach someone with an eating disorder, and what not to do.
  • If you think you may have an eating disorder, ask for help. You are not alone. Eating Disorders Victoria and the Butterfly Foundation can help you both before and after you have discussed your concerns with your family member.
  • Remember, you have the potential to be a great support to your family member if they are diagnosed with an eating disorder.;

How Are Eating Disorders Treated

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Treatment will be different depending on the type of eating disorder your friend or relative has.

It will usually involve some kind of talking therapy because help with eating and putting on weight alone is usually not enough.

Your friend or relative will talk to a therapist about the emotional difficulties that led to their eating disorder, and they will learn healthier ways to cope with these feelings. Their treatment may also involve them working through a guided self-help programme.

During their treatment, they will also have regular health checks to look after their physical health.

Treatment will take place over a number of weeks so your friend or relative can get used to the changes slowly. The earlier they start, the better their chances of making a good recovery.

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Common Types Of Eating Disorders

Although the term eating is in the name, eating disorders are about more than food. Theyre complex mental health conditions that often require the intervention of medical and psychological experts to alter their course.

These disorders are described in the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition .

In the United States alone, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men have or have had an eating disorder at some point in their life .

This article describes 6 of the most common types of eating disorders and their symptoms.

Eating disorders are a range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. They might start with an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape.

In severe cases, eating disorders can cause serious health consequences and may even result in death if left untreated.

Those with eating disorders can have a variety of symptoms. However, most include the severe restriction of food, food binges, or purging behaviors like vomiting or over-exercising.

Although eating disorders can affect people of any gender at any life stage, theyre most often reported in adolescents and young women. In fact, up to 13% of youth may experience at least one eating disorder by the age of 20 .

Summary Eating disorders are mental health conditions marked by an obsession with food or body shape. They can affect anyone but are most prevalent among young women.

What Are Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a persons eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may be signs of an eating disorder. These disorders can affect a persons physical and mental health; in some cases, they can be life-threatening. But eating disorders can be treated. Learning more about them can help you spot the warning signs and seek treatment early.

Remember: Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice. They are biologically-influenced medical illnesses.

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Learning How To Understand Their Feelings

You might be finding it hard to understand the person’s eating problem. This can also make it hard to be accepting towards how they might feel. Or how your attitude or behaviour might make them feel.

Try thinking about the following:

  • Be patient with them. Remember that their own acceptance of the problem can take time. It can take a long time for them to accept it and seek help. They might not see their eating as a problem. They could see it as a solution to cope with certain feelings. For example rage, loss, powerlessness, self-hatred, worthlessness, guilt, or feeling like they have no control. They may be scared about what recovery means for them and their body.
  • Be gentle with them. You can’t force someone to change their behaviour. You might try hard to persuade, trick or force someone into eating more or less. This could make them feel even more anxious and fearful about food. It could also make them withdraw from you. They might try harder to convince you they’re eating more healthily, even if they’re not.
  • Don’t focus or comment on their appearance. Remember that someone’s weight or appearance doesn’t tell you how they’re feeling inside. With some comments such as “you look well”, you think you’re being kind. But they can trigger very difficult feelings for someone who has an eating problem. The eating problem charity Beat has more information on how to talk to someone with eating problems.

Damaging Mindsets That Fuel Anorexia

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All-or-nothing thinking. Through this harshly critical lens, if youre not perfect, youre a total failure. You have a hard time seeing shades of gray, at least when it comes to yourself.

Emotional reasoning. You believe if you feel a certain way, it must be true. I feel fat means I am fat.I feel hopeless means youll never get better.

Musts, must-nots, and have-tos. You hold yourself to a rigid set of rules and beat yourself up if you break them.

Labeling. You call yourself names based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings. Im unhappy with how I look becomes Im disgusting. Slipping up becomes Im a failure.

Catastrophizing. You jump to the worst-case scenario. If you backslide in recovery, for example, you assume that theres no hope youll ever get better.

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Who Is At Risk For Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, body weights, and genders. Although eating disorders often appear during the teen years or young adulthood, they may also develop during childhood or later in life .

Remember: People with eating disorders may appear healthy, yet be extremely ill.

The exact cause of eating disorders is not fully understood, but research suggests a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors can raise a persons risk.

Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration

SAMHSA is a government agency that addresses mental health and substance use concerns throughout the country. Their website has a treatment locator that you can use to find a treatment facility in your area.

Additionally, the SAMHSA National Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. You can call this number to receive a referral for a treatment facility near you. All information is kept confidential.

Getting help for an eating disorder may initially seem challenging or scary. These feelings are normal discussing concerns about our bodies or our mental health can require us to be more vulnerable than were used to.

Remember: Seeking help is a big first step on your recovery journey.

If you think you may have an eating disorder, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. You can choose to see your primary care doctor or a mental health professional.

Try to be as open as possible with your doctor about your thought patterns, eating habits, and concerns. Also, dont hesitate to ask questions if you have them.

If youre nervous, it may be helpful to bring a family member or friend along with you for support.

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What Are The Warning Signs Of An Eating Disorder

If they are not recognized and addressed, eating disorder behaviours can result in serious physical and emotional problems.

Here are some signs that your teen may be struggling with an eating disorder and needs immediate help:

  • irritability, depression and social withdrawal.
  • excessive preoccupation with calories, food or “healthy eating”.
  • frequent negative comments about their weight and shape.
  • restriction of food intake.
  • making excuses to avoid eating.
  • significant weight loss or weight gain .
  • compulsive exercising.
  • frequently eating excessive amounts of food in a short period of time.
  • consuming food alone, at night or secretly.
  • using laxatives or diet pills.
  • going to the bathroom immediately after eating.

Tips For Your Own Wellbeing

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It’s important that you manage your own wellbeing while supporting your friend or family member. Try to do the following if you can:

  • Remember that recovery can be a long process. While their body might look healthier quickly, they may be finding things hard emotionally. Relapses are common and don’t feel very encouraging. It helps to accept this as part of the process. Don’t blame them, yourself or anyone else.
  • Try to be kind to yourself. Supporting someone with an eating disorder can be upsetting and exhausting. It’s important to remember that your mental health is important too, and you deserve support for yourself as well. For for information, see our pages on how to cope when supporting someone else and helping someone seek help.
  • Seek support from specialist organisations. Depending on your relationship to the person, there may be dedicated support options. You might find it helpful to look into the Young Minds Parents Helpline and Beat’s Support for Carers.

Mental illness, my Dad and me

“It was a huge sacrifice on my Dads part as he gave up a lot of aspects of his life.”

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What To Do If They Deny The Problem And Refuse Treatment

A commonand often frustrating for loved onessymptom of an eating disorder is anosognosia. People with eating disorders often lack insight into their illness, likely in response to malnutrition in the brain. As a result, they do not believe they need help.

Remembering there is a biological reason for this can help you to better handle this behavior. Dont think of them as being defiant or resistant. Instead, realize they have a deficit in their insight.

If you encounter this, continue to show you care but dont give in to their realitycontinue to tell the truth. By continuing to present reality and gently expressing concern, you may eventually be able to chip away at the lack of insight and encourage them to get help.

How To Help Someone With An Eating Disorder

If a friend or relative has an eating disorder, such as;anorexia,bulimia orbinge eating disorder, you will probably want to do everything you can to help them recover.

You’re already doing a great job by finding out more about eating disorders and how to try;to support them it shows you care and helps you understand how they might be feeling.

Getting professional help from a doctor, practice nurse, or a school or college nurse will give your friend or relative the best chance of getting better. But this can be one of the most difficult steps for someone living with an eating disorder, so try to encourage them to seek help or offer to go along with them.

You can support them in other ways, too:

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How To Discuss Eating Concerns With A Loved One

Become educated on the disease- Learn as much as you can from articles, books, brochures etc. on health, nutrition and healthy eating habits. This will help you talk with your loved one. Its important to recognize the facts rather than myths about eating disorders.

Setup a time to talk privately- Make sure to find a time and place where you are alone and can discuss your concern that they have an eating disorder. Nobody likes their personal life to be publicly displayed and this allows the person to feel more secure and safe.

Practice what you will say- It can be helpful to write out your thoughts beforehand and what youd like to say. This can reduce stress and anxiety over the conversation and allow you to plan out your main points.

Use I statements- Using I statements makes the person feel less attacked. When you make statements like you dont ever eat etc. the person may feel like they are being accused and take things the wrong way.

Be understanding, caring and firm- Its important to not make promises or statements that you cant keep. For example, if you do this again, we cant be friends or I wont tell anyone else. Being firm is okay and allows you to not feel as though you are being manipulated.

Tell someone- As difficult as it may be, its pertinent to talk to the person right away when you have concerns before its too late or life-threatening. The person going through this needs a lot of support from friends and family during this time.

How Do I Find A Clinical Trial

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Researchers at the NIMH conduct clinical trials on numerous areas of study, including cognition, genetics, epidemiology, and psychiatry. These clinical trials take place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and may require regular visits. After an initial phone interview, you will come to an appointment at the clinic and meet with a clinician. Visit the NIMH Clinical Trials Participants or Join a Study pages for more information on participating in clinical trials.

To find a clinical trial near you, you can visit This website is a searchable registry and results database of federally and privately supported clinical trials conducted in the United States and around the world. gives you information about a trial’s purpose, who may participate, locations, and phone numbers for more details. This information should be used in conjunction with advice from health professionals.

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What If I Have An Eating Disorder

If you think you may have an eating disorder:

Tell someone. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor, or an adult you trust. Let them know what you’re going through. Ask them to help.

Get help early. When an eating disorder is caught early, a person has a better chance of recovery. Make an appointment with your doctor or an eating disorders specialist.

Go to all appointments. Treatment takes time and effort. Work hard to learn about yourself and your emotions. Ask questions any time you have them.

Be patient with yourself. There’s so much to learn, and change happens a little at a time. Take care of yourself and be with people who support you.

Talking To Someone With An Eating Disorder

Are you ready to gently face a loved one you suspect may have an eating disorder? First, know that you must approach this carefully. What you dont want to do is assume you know what their issues are and warn about the possible health risks. You also dont want to give ultimatums and shame them into eating normally.

What also wont work is commenting on their body or appearance, unintentional guilt-tripping , or judging them. These actions may cause someone with the condition to clam up, potentially exacerbating symptoms.

Speak to this person during a calm time. Focus on expressing concern without any judgment or assumptions. Let them know that you want to help in any way you can, even if its just listening. Be empathetic about their struggle, even if you dont completely understand. Sometimes all a person needs is someone to talk to.

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Practical Ways You Can Help

As well as developing your own understanding, these practical ideas can help the person you’re worried about.

You could try the following:

  • Include them in social activities. If they find it difficult to eat, arrange activities which dont involve food. You could watch a film, play a game or take a walk.
  • Keep meal times as stress-free as possible. Don’t comment on their food choices. Let them get on with eating the food they feel able to eat.
  • Find safe ways to talk about it. Some people find it helps to refer to the eating problems in the third person. Try saying things like “that’s not you, that’s the eating problem speaking”.
  • Help them find good information and avoid bad sources. This could mean looking for reliable facts and trusted online support. It also means helping them avoid places online that may promote unsafe eating and exercise habits.
  • It can be really helpful to read stories and accounts by people with eating problems. Especially those who are ready to think about recovery. You can find some by looking in the ‘Eating problems’ category of the Mind blogs and stories. You can find more stories and blogs at Beat.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help. If they are worried about talking to their doctor, you could offer to go along with them. See our page on treatment and support for more information. Our useful contacts for eating problems lists charities and other organisations they can contact.

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