Dont Assume Nobody Is Recovering From An Eating Disorder At Your Holiday Gathering
First and foremost, it is important to never assume that nobody around is recovering from an eating disorder.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association , research shows that 3-9 out of every 1,000 young women and 1-3 out of every 1,000 young men struggle with anorexia alone. Additionally, Binge Eating Disorder was found to be three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.
Needless to say, we dont know what is going on beneath the surface.
Though you may assume nobody attending your gathering suffers from an eating disorder, you may not be able to know this as a fact, which is why its important to take all the tips mentioned in this article into consideration.
Talk To Someone If Youre Worried
If youre worried about your friends recovery, or if you find they are trying to persuade you to let them do something that could be harmful to their recovery process, such as skipping a meal or binging, talk to someone about it. Reach out to a family member or someone you know is close to their recovery process and let them know your concerns, and encourage your friend to get in touch with their psychologist or doctor. You could also reach out to a support organisation for advice.
Tip : Develop A Balanced Relationship With Food
Even though food itself is not the problem, developing a healthier relationship with it is essential to your recovery. Most people with eating disorders struggle with issues of control when it comes to foodoften fluctuating between strict rules and chaos. The goal is to find a balance.
Let go of rigid eating rules. Strict rules about food and eating fuel eating disorders, so its important to replace them with healthier ones. For example, if you have a rule forbidding all desserts, change it into a less rigid guideline such as, I wont eat dessert every day. You wont gain weight by enjoying an occasional ice cream or cookie.
Dont diet. The more you restrict food, the more likely it is that youll become preoccupied, and even obsessed, with it. So instead of focusing on what you shouldnt eat, focus on nutritious foods that will energize you and make your body strong. Think of food as fuel for your body. Your body knows when the tank is low, so listen to it. Eat when youre truly hungry, then stop when youre full.
Stick to a regular eating schedule. You may be used to skipping meals or fasting for long stretches. But when you starve yourself, food becomes all you think about. To avoid this preoccupation, try to eat every three hours. Plan ahead for meals and snacks, and dont skip!
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Encourage Them To Seek Professional Help And Be Present Once They Do
As your friend begins to recognize the importance of recovery, encourage them to consider seeking professional help as part of their journey. Mental healthcare is still surrounded by an unfair stigma, but the value of psychological and medical attention in the eating disorder recovery process is crucial. If your friend expresses hesitation, listen to their concerns, and allow them to explore the reasons for their negative reaction.
I, too, balked at the idea of involving mental health professionals in my recovery. It sounded excessive, inconvenient, and intimidating. Even so, as a long-time advocate for mental healthcare, I knew better. My chances of restoring my health would be far higher with a trained team behind me. I leaned on my family and friends for support. They frequently had to remind me that the appointments â doctors, nutritionist, therapist, repeat â were worth it. They held me accountable to my better judgement on the days when busyness or exhaustion drained me of my determination.
Dont: Talk About Or Evaluate Your Body Or Other Peoples Bodies Or Talk About Dieting Or Weight In Front Of The Person In Recovery
Even if you are not commenting on their body or their diet, you send an important message about what you value or judge in a person by how you discuss yourself or others. Of course, many people are unhappy with their weight or appearance and the prevalence of the diet industry in our culture cannot be understated. Just because you may be on a special diet does not mean you yourself are engaging in disordered eating habits. However, a person in eating disorder recovery is especially vulnerable to these messages. What is a casual comment to you, can for them be a verbal sledgehammer. This goes for compliments as well as criticisms! For example, noting that a celebrity looks great because he/she has lost weight can send a message that what you value about that person is their appearance. These messages are subtle but insidious, and it takes practice to become aware of them.
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Speak Up If You Feel Like Something’s Not Right
If you suspect one of your loved ones is dealing with an eating disorder, say something. It wonât come out perfectly, and you shouldn’t gauge the success of your conversation by the response of your friend â chances are quite high that they’ll be unreceptive, angry, or adamantly in denial. But it’s also true that someone who is truly in the grips of an eating disorder has lost at least some ability to evaluate their condition objectively. It’s very likely they’re unaware of the toll their behavior is taking on their body, mind, and relationships.
It’s important to remember that although eating disorders are miserable, most every person who struggles with one has believed, in some sense, that their disease is helping them. An eating disorder may be a way for your friend to contain the anxieties that riddle their mind. It may be a form of self-punishment, a manifestation of self-hatred they donât recognize. Know that your loved one may be caught in a cycle of futile comparison and perfectionism â their perceived control over their body and diet could be an attempt to conjure some feeling of accomplishment or self-approval.
Getting Treatment For An Eating Disorder
While there are a variety of different treatment options available for those struggling with eating disorders, it is important to find the treatment, or combination of treatments, that works best for you.
Effective treatment should address more than just your symptoms and destructive eating habits. It should also address the root causes of the problemthe emotional triggers that lead to disordered eating and your difficulty coping with stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, or other uncomfortable emotions.
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Ways To Help Without Directly Speaking To Them About It
Oftentimes, your family member or friend might not realize or accept that they have an eating disorder. The best chance for treating this problem is by speaking with a mental healthcare professional.â
Here are some ways you can guide your friend or family member toward seeking help without directly speaking to them about it.
- Continue to let them know they’re welcome. This person may be in a place where they’re self-isolating. It may be hard to encourage them to engage in the outside world. But keep trying. Even if they say no, being invited will let them know you still value them as a person.
- Shower them with love. Telling them how much you love them and appreciate them can build their self-esteem and help them through this challenging time in their life.
- Listen to them. This may be difficult, but simply giving them your time and listening to them without judgment can mean the world to them. It can be tough to hear them speak about themselves and what they eat but not giving advice or passing judgment is what’s important.
Offering support is essential, and you can do this indirectly by:
Be Aware Of Eating Disorder Relapse Signs
Relapse is very common in people who have struggled with an eating disorder. Major life changes such as starting a new school, going to college, divorce, starting a new job or the death of a loved one can all be triggers for relapse. If your friend is going through a tough time or facing a significant life transition, keep an eye out for a return of eating disorders behaviors. If youre worried, approach them in a caring way and speak up about your concerns.
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Acknowledge That Eating Disorders Are A Mental Illness
Its very important to understand eating disorders are complex mental illnesses, and anyone of any age, gender, culture, and background can develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not a choice about lifestyle, physical looks, or vanity. Its not a character flaw or a moral decision to have an eating disorder. No-one chooses to have an eating disorder, and no-one is to blame.
Eating disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses, and successful recovery requires a comprehensive treatment team, says Dr Barron.
First Steps Towards Support
At first, you might just want to show the person you’re here for them and you support them.
Try to be considerate of the following:
- Let them know you are there. Make sure the person knows youre here to listen and can help them find support. This is one of the most important things you can do. Let them know they can talk to you when they’re ready.
- Try not to get angry or frustrated. They might already feel guilty about how their behaviour is affecting you. Try to be as understanding and patient as you can.
- Don’t make assumptions. Try not to interpret what their eating problem means without listening to them. This could add to their feelings of helplessness. It could also make them less able to share their difficult emotions and seek support.
Avoiding common assumptions
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Recognizing The Signs Of An Eating Disorder
You cannot always recognize the signs of an eating disorder based on a persons weight. People with bulimia may have an average weight while people with binge eating disorder may gain weight. Additionally, people with anorexia may not be losing weight despite their lack of food intake.
Additional signs to help you recognize an eating disorder include:
- Very low self-esteem
- Having a view of body or weight that does not match with reality
- An intense fear of gaining weight or eating food
- Lying and making excuses about eating or the lack of eating
- Finding empty bottles, cans, wrappers and containers of food that were hidden
- Someone always leaving the room or using the bathroom immediately after eating
- Exercising excessively
- Using laxatives or other pills to lose weight
Eating disorders can dominate a persons life. If your friend seems consumed with ideas of food, weight and how they look, they could have an eating disorder. However, when you recognize the symptoms, you are in a better position to help them with an eating disorder.
Don’t Keep Your Condition A Secret
Keeping secrets about difficult things in your life can lead to feelings of shame and prevent you from asking for support when you need it. Choose people who have earned your trust when it comes to sharing your experience. If they know what’s going on, they’re more likely to be able to be there for you in ways that will help.
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Dealing With Eating Disorders In The Home
As a parent, there are many things you can do to support your childs eating disorder recoveryeven if they are still resisting treatment.
Set a positive example. You have more influence than you think. Instead of dieting, eat nutritious, balanced meals. Be mindful about how you talk about your body and your eating. Avoid self-critical remarks or negative comments about others appearance. Instead, focus on the qualities on the inside that really make a person attractive.
Make mealtimes fun. Try to eat together as a family as often as possible. Even if your child isnt willing to eat the food youve prepared, encourage them to join you at the table. Use this time together to enjoy each others company, rather than talking about problems. Meals are also a good opportunity to show your child that food is something to be enjoyed rather than feared.
Avoid power struggles over food. Attempts to force your child to eat will only cause conflict and bad feelings and likely lead to more secrecy and lying. That doesnt mean you cant set limits or hold your child accountable for their behavior. But dont act like the food police, constantly monitoring your childs behavior.
Do whatever you can to promote self-esteem. in your child in intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to disordered eating.
Tips For Your Own Wellbeing
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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How Can A Loved One Support Someone With An Eating Disorder
I had a long, personal recovery journey from anorexia. At times, I hid it from my parents and other family members. At times, they could just look into my vapid eyes and tell that I was struggling. And at times they were right by my side helping me to get into treatment because it was a life or death situation.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in eating disorders treatment I work with families on how they can support their loved one with an eating disorder. Most families mean well, however they are often blindsided and not well-versed in the eating disorders world.
Here is a list of the most important ways to support a loved one with an eating disorder:
Resources To Support Eating Disorder Recovery
Recovering from an eating disorder can look different for everyone. There are many types of eating disorders and treatment options that may be recommended by a care provider. Its common for people in recovery to receive support from a multidisciplinary care team that may include a dietitian, therapist, psychiatrist, support group, social worker, cardiologist and primary care provider, as well as friends and family members.
The resources in this article are for informational purposes only individuals should consult with a licensed health care provider before taking action.
In This Article:
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Supporting Someone With An Eating Disorder
If youre worried about someone then its important to encourage them to seek treatment as quickly as possible to ensure the best chance of recovery. But treatment is only one aspect of the recovery journey, and there are ways outside of your loved ones treatment programme that you can play a vital role in helping them get better, regardless of your relationship to them. This can range from being a listening ear, to going to the supermarket with them and supporting them after mealtimes. Each person is different and will need different things, but this will give you some ideas about what you can do to help. And remember, one of the most important things you can do for your loved one is look after yourself.
Dont Underestimate Your Ability To Help
Many people with eating disorders report that it was only because of other people in their lives caring about them that they recovered. Keep this in mind when things seem hopelessyou can be enormously helpful to your friend or loved one.
Even if they are not engaging in treatment or seeming willing to accept help, reach out periodically to remind them you care about them and ask if theres anything you can do to support them. Offer hope and remind them that most people with eating disorders do recover.
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Remind Them That You Value Their Life
Bear in mind that even the smallest step in this process may feel like a plunge for your friend. What we call âobsessiveâ is, often, a desperate attempt to externalize and control some very frightening feelings: helplessness, anxiety, depression. Suggesting to your friend that they should begin to give up the behaviors that have helped them cope may sound impossible to them at first.
But the beautiful fact is this: it is possible to get well. So many people do. Iâm doing it today. Right now, I’m at my laptop eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich . Itâs a complex process, and the rewards are proportional to the courage and commitment I put into my recovery. It’s not really about food . Itâs about so much more than poundage, or iron levels, or getting my doctors âoff my backâ by appeasing them with numbers.
Itâs about living â itâs life, my life, at stake. I am learning to love living, to accept the reality of my body, my place and time in this world. Letting go of the numbing, destructive mechanism of my anorexia has left me facing the stark facts of my past abuse and present fears. It is much harder, and much braver, to deal with these things than to succumb to the soothing, strangling constraints of compulsive behavior. But in the pain and uncertainty of self-acceptance, of letting go, comes the freedom to live. And my loved ones help me realize that there is nothing more precious than being here.
Images: Sarah Aziza