How To Talk To Someone Who Is Struggling With An Eating Disorder
Have you ever had a friend or family member who you thought may be struggling with their relationship with food? It can be hard to know how to talk to someone who is showing signs of disordered eating habits. Even with the best intentions, giving support can be challenging. Of course, you want to show that you care, but you also dont want to come across too strong or possibly offend them. But then how do you find that balance? This is especially relevant around the holidays when food is often a focal point in celebrations. If youre a friend or family member of someone struggling with an eating disorder, here are some tips on how to approach the subject.
Learn To Tolerate The Feelings That Trigger Your Binge Eating
The next time you feel the urge to binge, instead of giving in, take a moment to stop and investigate whats going on inside.
Identify the emotion youre feeling. Do your best to name what youre feeling. Is it anxiety? Shame? Hopelessness? Anger? Loneliness? Fear? Emptiness?
Accept the experience youre having. Avoidance and resistance only make negative emotions stronger. Instead, try to accept what youre feeling without judging it or yourself.
Dig deeper. Explore whats going on. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What kinds of thoughts are going through your head?
Distance yourself. Realize that you are NOT your feelings. Emotions are passing events, like clouds moving across the sky. They dont define who you are.
Sitting with your feelings may feel extremely uncomfortable at first. Maybe even impossible. But as you resist the urge to binge, youll start to realize that you dont have to give in. There are other ways to cope. Even emotions that feel intolerable are only temporary. Theyll quickly pass if you stop fighting them. Youre still in control. You can choose how to respond.
For a step-by-step guide to learning how to manage unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions, check out HelpGuides free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit.
Choosing The Right Time And Place
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How Do I Respond To Someone Who Is Suicidal
If your friend or loved one has shared that they are currently suicidal, it is critical to obtain professional help. There are several options in this situation if you are not able to quickly de-escalate this situation on your own. It is important to remain calm and communicate in a composed manner with your loved one to assist them in remaining calm as well.
If you know their location or if you are with them, 911 can be contacted to assist your loved one in getting help to them quickly. You can let the 911 operator know that there is a psychiatric emergency taking place. They will know what services to dispatch.
There are also suicide hotlines that can be utilized with trained crisis counselors who can talk to you and/or your loved one in this situation. There is a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that can be contacted at 1-800-273 TALK . Another option is the Crisis Text Line. Text NAMI to 741 741. A trained crisis counselor will provide support via text message.
Be Open To Talk About More Than The Obvious
First off, I feel it’s important to get rid of preconceived notions about eating disorders and the people who suffer from them. Don’t assume that the person whom you think might be suffering from an eating disorder doesn’t have a clue about it. They may know that they have a problem related to food or body image, but they might just never talk about it for a number of reasons, including fear of being labelled or even admitting to themselves they suffer from this form of mental illness. So if you are going to approach them, I suggest you do so in a comforting way, so they dont feel pressure to have to open up. If the experience goes well, with time, they may eventually open up to you or someone else on their own with some of their ongoing trials and tribulations.
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Some Of The More Common Signs Of Binge Eating Disorder Are:
If someone is developing binge eating disorder, often changes in behaviour are noticeable before changes to physical appearance. Signs include:
- Buying lots of food
- Organising life around bingeing episodes
- Hoarding food
- Compromise of education and employment plans
Binge eating disorder is a mental illness, and you might notice changes in the way you or someone you know feels before physical symptoms become obvious. Psychological signs include:
- Spending a lot or most of their time thinking about food
- A sense of being out of control around food, or a loss of control over eating
- Feeling anxious and tense, especially over eating in front of others
- Low confidence and self-esteem
- Feelings of shame and guilt after bingeing
- Other mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety
There are several physical consequences associated with binge eating disorder:
- Poor skin condition
Like any eating disorder, binge eating disorder can have long-term physical effects, some of which may be permanent. These include:
- Damage to the oesophagus and stomach
How To Talk To Someone With An Eating Disorder
If someone you know is displaying any of the warning signs of an eating disorder, confronting this person can be difficult as you may fear offending him or her. It is a delicate subject, but your concerns are valid and voicing them could help save your loved ones life.
People with eating disorders are often afraid to ask for help. Some can struggle just as much as you may be to initiate a conversation about their problem, while others can have such low self-esteem that they simply dont feel like they deserve help.
Eating disorders tend to get worse without treatment, and the physical and emotional damage is detrimental. The sooner you reach out to a friend or family member, the better his or her chances of recovery.
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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:
Common Symptoms Of Disordered Eating Include:
- Obsessive calorie counting or preoccupation with dieting
- Anxiety about certain foods or food groups
- Satisfaction with self that is highly dependent upon body shape or weight
- Excessive or inflexible exercise routine
- A rigid approach to eating
- Frequent fasting or skipping of meals
- Use of diet pills or laxatives to control food intake
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Identify Your Triggers With A Food And Mood Diary
One of the best ways to identify the patterns behind your binge eating is to keep track with a food and mood diary. Every time you overeat or feel compelled to reach for your version of comfort food Kryptonite, take a moment to figure out what triggered the urge. If you backtrack, youll usually find an upsetting event that kicked off the binge.
Write it all down in your food and mood diary: what you ate , what happened to upset you, how you felt before you ate, what you felt as you were eating, and how you felt afterward. Over time, youll see a pattern emerge.
Go Into It With Compassion Not Anger
When a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, itâs not uncommon that people become frustrated with them. âFriends get angry that the person isnât taking care of themselves or is making everybody else feel uncomfortable, or that the person isnât sharing what’s going on,â says Cipullo. When confronting your friend, cast these angry or irritated feelings aside in favor of love and compassion. The conversation will be much more productive.
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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.
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Speaking With Knowledge And Purpose
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How Is Binge Eating Disorder Diagnosed
If a doctor thinks a child or teen might have a binge eating disorder, theyll ask lots of questions about their medical history and dietary habits. The doctor will also ask about the family history, family eating patterns, and emotional issues.
To diagnose binge eating disorder, doctors and mental health professionals look for signs such as:
- eating more food than most people eat in a set period of time
- a sense of lack of control over eating
- binge eating, on average, at least once a week for at least 3 months
- binge eating associated with:
- eating faster than most people
- eating until uncomfortably full
Be Patient And Supportive
Eating disorder recovery is a long-term and for many, a lifelong journey. It will take some time before the individual comes to terms that they want and need help. They may shut you out at first, but these conversations are a way to open up the lines of communication. Make it clear that you care, that you believe in them, and that youll be there in whatever way they need, whenever theyre ready.
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What Emotional Support Can I Offer
Those dealing with an eating disorder will need emotional support from family and friends. There are many ways that you can provide that support to a loved one. One important thing to remember is that every individual is unique and so is their eating disorder. They are the expert regarding their condition, and what they find to be supportive.
While various books and websites can provide a starting place, each person will need to verbalize which things they find to be helpful and not. The process is one of trial and error that you and your loved one will experience together during the recovery journey.
Here are examples of ways to support a loved one dealing with an eating disorder:
Refrain From Commenting On Their Body
Sometimes eating disorders develop because of an obsession over physical appearance. Food becomes the focal point because children or teens believe that they can achieve what they want by controlling what they consume in some way.
As a parent, try not to comment on your child’s appearance or weight. Instead, focus on their internal strengths like their kindness or generosity.
“If at all possible, we should try to avoid commenting on ones bodies,” Dr. Goldman says. “Its OK to share things like, our bodies change overtime, we all have unique bodies, but try to not focus on of ones body.”
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Tip : Support Yourself With Healthy Lifestyle Habits
When youre physically strong, relaxed, and well rested, youre better able to handle the curveballs that life inevitably throws your way. But when youre already exhausted and overwhelmed, any little hiccup has the potential to send you off the rails and straight toward the refrigerator. Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without binge eating.
Make time for regular exercise. Physical activity does wonders for your mood and your energy levels, and its also a powerful stress reducer. The natural mood-boosting effects of can help put a stop to emotional eating.
Get enough sleep every night. When you dont get the sleep you need, your body craves sugary foods that will give you a quick energy boost. Sleep deprivation may even trigger food addiction. Getting plenty of rest will help with appetite control and reduce food cravings, and support your mood.
Connect with others. Dont underestimate the importance of close relationships and social activities. Youre more likely to succumb to binge eating triggers if you lack a solid support network. Talking helps, even if its not with a professional.
Manage stress. One of the most important aspects of controlling binge eating is to find alternate ways to handle stress and other overwhelming feelings without using food. These may include meditating, using sensory relaxation strategies, and practicing simple breathing exercises.
Encourage Them To Seek Help
Help them find the resources they need. Research treatment options in your area. Assure them that there is no shame in getting treatment and that it is a step in the right direction. Help them get connected with other people struggling with the same thing through support groups. Encourage them throughout the beginning stages of recovery. You can even offer to go with them to their first appointment to make them feel more comfortable. It may take several different treatment options to find the right fit because everyone is different. Remind them that this is part of the process and that they do not need to feel discouraged.
Another important thing to consider is how you talk about food. Be mindful of the narrative you create around food and body image. Even if youre not directly talking to that person, they are still taking notes on what youre saying. Try not to say things like Im so fat or I need to go on a diet. This only feeds the restrictive mindset of diet culture. Avoid commenting on other peoples appearances or bodies. Instead, celebrate all bodies and model a healthy relationship with food. Even further, you can make an effort to emphasize that persons accomplishments and qualities that are not related to their appearance or body. This shows them that their worth has nothing to do with their weight or how they look.
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