Helpful Things To Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder
There are many sources to find online as to what can trigger someone with an eating disorder. However, youre likely left with one important question on your mind:
So what should we say to someone recovering from an eating disorder?
It’s indeed quite difficult to find the right words sometimes. You don’t want to trigger someone, but at the same time you want to let them know that you care and you really want to say something, but what do you say?
The answer is in some ways quite simple reassurance and love are the two dominating factors when it comes to helping anyone with mental health issues. The constant voice of the eating disorder, or the disordered thoughts, need to be counteracted and rationalised. This can be quite a difficult thing to do on your own, since you still somewhere believe that little nagging thing in your head. And then someone comes along and tells you how healthy and full of life you look and for some reason it makes the nagging a little stronger. But what is it that you can say that will help?
Ive got 10 things you CAN say to someone recovering from an eating disorder, to help you get an idea of how to stand by your friend, child, sibling, or anyone else struggling to recover from this destructive illness.
General Tips For Supporting Someone
- Recognise that you are not to blame.
- Acknowledge to your loved one that they are not to blame.
- Recognise how distressing the illness is for your loved one.
- Educate yourself about eating disorders where you can.
- Ask your loved one how they are feeling and what they are thinking, rather than making assumptions.
- Avoid discussing weight, shape, food, and diets in front of your loved one, and model a balanced relationship with your own food and exercise.
- Remind yourself that things can change and reassure your loved one that recovery is possible.
- Ask your loved one what you can do to help for example, helping them to stick to regular eating, putting in boundaries following mealtimes, having a space to talk about how they are feeling. Your loved one may respond that you can just leave them alone or that you cant do anything to help, so here it can be helpful to remind them you can hear their distress and how difficult things are, and you are there if they need you.
- Recognise any accommodating or enabling behaviours behaviours that you do to help reduce your loved ones distress from the eating disorder, for example, cleaning up vomit or cooking different meals for them, but that collude with the disorder and cover up the negative consequences of the behaviours.
It’s Okay To Take A Rest Day
Resting seems quite an obvious thing, doesn’t it? But for someone in recovery, they’re likely still in the mindset of having to do everything and more. And sometimes, they just need someone to tell them that it’s okay to sit down and relax, that nothing will happen to them/their body if they take a day off in bed. Recovering is extremely tiring, it takes the life out of you. And it is okay to take a day off from school/college/work to take care of your body and mind. It’s just that most of us forget that sometimes, and being told that it’s okay to take a rest can make the difference between feeling absolutely shattered or guilty, and feeling ready to take on another challenging day.
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What You Can Say To Your Friend With An Eating Disorder
It can be really hard to find the right words you want someone to know that you care but you dont want to trigger someone or make things more difficult.
Generally, it is better to start sentences with I and not You and to stick to what you have observed. For example instead of saying You need help! which can sound accusatory say I would really like to help you feel better about yourself and would like us to try and get some help. Ask the person questions and try not to make any presumptions about how they might be feeling or their circumstances.
Here is a list of phases you can use to start conversation or simply to show that you are there to support your friend.
I love you/ I care about you and I dont think of you any differently.
I might not understand, but if you need someone to talk to, I will help as much as I can.
How are you doing today?
How can I best be a friend to you during this time?
I will never stop caring about you.
I will be here for you whenever you need my support.
I believe in you.
Im really proud of you this must be really hard.
Thoughts On Doing More Good Than Harm When Someone You Care About Is Ill
What should you do if you think or know that someone you care about has an eating disorder? What shouldnt you do? What can you do?
This post is primarily for you, the bystander: for you who watch someone who matters to you do themselves harm.
Before I go any further, though, if youre reading this and you know or suspect that someone else is worrying about you, and however that makes you feel, you might consider reading this too. If you read on, I hope that reading might help give you a little bit of insight into how it is for that person who is concerned.
On both sides, the failure to really understand how the other feels or what the other is doing can be a real stumbling block. This is often said of the person suffering from an eating disorder: no one who hasnt had one can really understand. But it applies the other way around too: if you havent experienced the fear, the helplessness, the anger, and, not least, precisely the incomprehension of looking on as someone dear to you apparently knowingly destroys themselves, its difficult quite to imagine what its like.
The upshot of this little philosophical digression is that everything is likely to go better if an effort at understanding how the other might be feeling is made on both sides.
So, back to the questions I started with.
Phase One: Early Uncertainties
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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.”
How To Help Someone With An Eating Disorder
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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Eight Ways To Help Your Friend In Eating Disorder Recovery
- Categorized Other
Having a friend in eating disorder recovery can be very daunting. You most likely will not know what they are going through, unless you have been in their shoes, and you may not know what to say or what not to say. Being supportive after your friend leaves treatment is just as important as being supportive before and during treatment. After treatment is usually the toughest time for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and thats when friends are needed the most. Being able to know when and how to assist can help keep your loved one on their recovery journey.
What Are Eating Disorders
Eating disorders involve extreme disturbances of eating habits, which can cause health consequences for the sufferers. There are three main types: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
These conditions have been shown to affect over 70 million people worldwide each year according to research, sample surveys, and studies. They can develop in both men and women but are most common in females.
Although eating disorders typically become evident during adolescence. They may not show up until much later or even earlier in life. Females tend to begin around age 11 while males do so on average at the age of 19. The symptoms for different types of eating disorders vary slightly.
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Understanding Your Loved Ones Eating Disorder
Eating disorders involve extreme disturbances in eating behaviorsfollowing rigid diets, bingeing on food in secret, throwing up after meals, obsessively counting calories. Its not easy to watch someone you care about damage their healthespecially when the solution appears, at least on the outside, to be simple. But eating disorders are more complicated than just unhealthy dietary habits. At their core, theyre attempts to deal with emotional issues and involve distorted, self-critical attitudes about weight, food, and body image. Its these negative thoughts and feelings that fuel the damaging behaviors.
People with eating disorders use food to deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions. Restricting food is used to feel in control. Overeating temporarily soothes sadness, anger, or loneliness. Purging is used to combat feelings of helplessness and self-loathing. Over time, people with an eating disorder lose the ability to see themselves objectively and obsessions over food and weight come to dominate everything else in their lives. Their road to recovery begins by identifying the underlying issues that drive their eating disorder and finding healthier ways to cope with emotional pain.
While you cant force a person with an eating disorder to change, you can offer your support and encourage treatment. And that can make a huge difference to your loved ones recovery.
Stay Friends With Them
Make sure to involve your friend in all the same things you would have done before they got sick. Although it may be hard for you, it is even harder for them. Eating disorders can be very isolating, and they might be worried that all of their friends will pull away from them. This can also help them to get back to normality if they are undergoing treatment.
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The Role Of Support Systems In Eating Disorder Recovery
Our support systems play an important role in our emotional well-being. Oftentimes, members of our support system can recognize a mental health crisis coming on before even we can. In eating disorder recovery, this means that the members of our support system can play an important role in facilitating a swift and full recovery.
However, its also possible for members of our support system to overstep their boundaries, or unintentionally say or do things that hurt rather than help our eating disorder recovery. So, what is an acceptable role for your support system to play in your eating disorder recovery and at what point should you ask them to step back?
First, you must understand that your support systems cannot do the hard work of recovering for you. They can support your recovery by making statements of encouragement, cooking nourishing meals with you, and cheering you on as you pursue your recovery goals. But ultimately, it is not up to them whether or not you are able to overcome your eating disorder. You should be able to rely on your support systems, but not expect them to solve your problems or fix your eating disorder for you.
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.
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Take Their Kids To Soccer Practice
When a friend has a serious illness, you probably do all you can to assistdeliver casseroles, pick up their kids from school, stop in and do the laundry. A person with an eating disorder also has a serious illness, but most of us don’t think of it that way, Cabrera says, so we don’t offer to lend a hand as we would if they had the flu.
Eating disorders are life-threatening diseases too, she says. Making those special efforts, taking those steps, can be really helpful.” In the meantime, it frees your friend up to contact doctors or go to outpatient treatment, or just take time to destress.
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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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.
Support Groups For Eating Disorders
- NEDA Network of Virtual Support Groups, NEDA: list of virtual support groups for different time zones offered by multiple organizations dedicated to eating disorder recovery across the United States.
- Eating Disorder Foundation Support Groups, Eating Disorder Foundation: list of recurring virtual support groups for people recovering from eating disorders, as well as family members and friends who are supporting someone through recovery.
- Around the Dinner Table Forum, FEAST: online community of parents of eating disorder patients around the world.
- The Sanctuary, Beat Eating Disorders: information about an online chat room for U.K. residents recovering from an eating disorder.
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