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Supporting Someone With An Eating Disorder

Girls Bully Friend Into Eating Disorder | What Would You Do? | WWYD

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.

Are There Complications Related To Treating Anorexia

The most serious complication of treating anorexia is a condition called refeeding syndrome. This life-threatening condition can occur when a seriously malnourished person begins to receive nutrition again. Basically, their body cannot properly restart the metabolism process.

People experiencing refeeding syndrome can develop the following conditions:

Since refeeding syndrome can have serious and life-threatening side effects, its essential for people with anorexia to receive medical treatment and/or guidance.

People who have one or more of the following risk factors for developing refeeding syndrome may need to be treated in a hospital:

  • Are severely malnourished .
  • Have had little or no calorie intake for more than 10 days.
  • Have a history of refeeding syndrome.
  • Have lost a lot of weight in a very short period of time .
  • Drink significant amounts of alcohol.
  • Have a history of misusing laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or insulin .
  • Have abnormal electrolyte levels before starting refeeding.

How To Tell If Your Child Has An Eating Disorder

It can be upsetting as a parent to watch your child struggle with an eating disorder. It can leave you feeling confused and frustrated and you may not know where to turn. However, it’s important to know that with the right help, children can make a lasting recovery from their eating disorder and you as a parent can play a crucial role in this.

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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of An Eating Disorder In Children

The signs and symptoms of eating disorders can vary from person-to-person and also depend on the type of eating disorder. However, if you notice a combination of the following signs in your child, it may be that they have developed, or are starting to develop, an eating disorder.

Behavioural symptoms

  • Pressure from the media to be thin
  • Having hobbies where being thin is seen as important, such as dancing or athletics

Possibility Of Anorexia Nervosa

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT 3 Comments

Anorexia refers to having a restrictive or avoidant diet that causes extreme weight loss and a low BMI score. A person with this condition is often obsessed with reducing their weight. And it is considered the deadliest diet-related mental illness. That is because the patient might die due to being underweight.

Note: the said condition is entirely different from picky eating.

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Anorexia: Not About Food And Dieting

It may come as a surprise, but anorexia isnt about food and dieting, at least these reasons are not what fuel the disorder. Eating disorders are very complicated and are most often the result of something much deeper. People develop an eating disorder most commonly because of depression, low self-esteem, insecurity, peer pressure, loneliness and feeling no control over their life. No amount of dieting or weight loss can compensate or cure an eating disorder.

How Do I Talk To My Friend About Eating Disorders

If your friend has some or many of the symptoms listed above and you are worried, it is a good idea to talk to them about your concerns.

It is a sensitive subject to discuss and your friend may feel ashamed, confused and be very secretive about her eating habits. She might be defensive or even angry when you bring up the subject.

The most important thing is to tell your friend that you care about them and want to help and support them. Try not to become frustrated if they dont listen to your advice. It is normal for people with eating disorders to take a long time to come to terms with the fact that they have a problem.

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What Is Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a condition where people avoid food, severely restrict food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods. They also may weigh themselves repeatedly. Even when dangerously underweight, they may see themselves as overweight.

There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa: a restrictive subtype and a binge-purge subtype.

Restrictive: People with the restrictive subtype of anorexia nervosa severely limit the amount and type of food they consume.

Binge-Purge: People with the binge-purge subtype of anorexia nervosa also greatly restrict the amount and type of food they consume. In addition, they may have binge-eating and purging episodeseating large amounts of food in a short time followed by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics to get rid of what was consumed.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Extremely restricted eating and/or intensive and excessive exercise
  • Extreme thinness
  • A relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body or self-image that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape
  • Denial of the seriousness of low body weight

Over time, anorexia nervosa can lead to numerous serious health consequences, including:

  • Thinning of the bones
  • Mild anemia
  • Brain damage
  • Multiple organ failure

Knowing What To Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder Is Key

How do I tell if I have an eating disorder?

Navigating life with an eating disorder may seem like an impossible task at times. It is so important that we let those in our lives with these debilitating disorders know that we are here to support them. Having support from everyone in their lives can help make the journey to recovery less difficult, even if it is just a small amount. Every little bit we do can and will help.

We hope this list provides you with insight to comfort someone with an eating disorder. Remember that recovery is possible and having the proper support from friends and family is the first step.

If someone you care about is struggling with recovery, or needs treatment, were here to help. Call us at 800.760.3934 and speak to one of our highly trained admission specialists today. Or, you can fill out this form for a FREE assessment. All calls are completely free and strictly confidential.

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My Friend Has An Eating Disorder Im Not Sure How To Support Or Help Him Or Her

Once your friend has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, health professionals will be responsible for helping your friend to overcome her illness.

But your friendship and support are very important and will play an important part in helping him or her to beat their eating disorder. Here are some things that you can do to help:

  • Talk about your friends strengths the things that she enjoys and is good at.
  • Try to avoid focusing on how your friend looks physically.
  • Simple questions like What can I do to help and What would make you feel better can start positive conversations.
  • Try not to talk about food, weight, diets, or body shape .
  • Try not to be too watchful of your friends eating habits, food amounts, and choices.
  • Try not to say things like If youd just eat or stop going to the gym all the time youll get better.

What Do You Think Kids Who Live At Home Need Most From Their Parents During Recovery

Everyones recovery is different, but in general, I think kids living at home need their parents to be their parents first and foremost. It is so easy for parents to fall into the role of therapist/dietitian/and food police it is a hard line to walk. People living at home need a duality of things they need boundaries but also grace, they need support but they also need to learn how to stand on their own. They need closeness and they need space. There isnt a perfect way to parent someone in recovery its going to be messy!

An eating disorder is a disordered relationship with food, a disordered relationship with the body, and a disordered relationship with the self. People consciously or unconsciously use their eating disorders to communicate in relationships but the rest of the world doesnt speak that language! Part of the recovery process is learning new ways of being in relationships, using words rather than their eating disorder, and weaning themselves off the safe relationship of their eating disorder and onto healthier but ultimately changeable relationships with other people.

This is why I think that kids need help articulating what they need from their parents as a very first step. Most kids dont know, which can make it hard to parent them! Learning to articulate needs is something they need to learn from a therapist, a mentor, coach, etc. or it could just come with time. Deep soul work isnt an easy process, but slow change is sustainable change.

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What Are The Risk Factors For Developing Anorexia

Anorexia can affect anyone, no matter their gender, age or race. However, certain factors put some people at greater risk for developing anorexia, including:

  • Age: Eating disorders, including anorexia, are more common in adolescents and young adults, but young children and older adults can still develop anorexia.
  • Gender: Women and girls are more likely to be diagnosed with anorexia. However, its important to know that men and boys can have anorexia and may be under-diagnosed due to differences in seeking treatment.
  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with an eating disorder increases your risk of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia.
  • Dieting: Dieting taken too far can develop into anorexia.
  • Changes and trauma: Big changes in your life, such as going to college, starting a new job or going through a divorce, and/or trauma, such as sexual assault or physical abuse, may trigger the development of anorexia.
  • Certain careers and sports: Eating disorders are especially common amongst models, gymnasts, runners, wrestlers and dancers.

How Is Anorexia Treated

Why You Don

The biggest challenge in treating anorexia is helping the person recognize and accept that they have an illness. Many people with anorexia deny that they have an eating disorder. They often seek medical treatment only when their condition is serious or life-threatening. This is why its important to diagnose and treat anorexia in its beginning stages.

The goals of treatment for anorexia include:

  • Stabilizing weight loss.
  • Hospitalization.


Psychotherapy is a type of individual counseling that focuses on changing the thinking and behavior of a person with an eating disorder. Treatment includes practical techniques for developing healthy attitudes toward food and weight, as well as approaches for changing the way the person responds to difficult situations. There are several types of psychotherapy, including:


Some healthcare providers may prescribe medication to help manage anxiety and depression that are often associated with anorexia. The antipsychotic medication olanzapine may be helpful for weight gain. Sometimes, providers prescribe medications to help with period regulation.

Nutrition counseling

Nutrition counseling is a strategy to help treat anorexia that involves the following:

  • Teaching a healthy approach to food and weight.
  • Helping restore normal eating patterns.
  • Teaching the importance of nutrition and a balanced diet.
  • Restoring a healthy relationship with food and eating.

Group and/or family therapy


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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.

Youve Put On Weight You Look Great

You mean well but this phrase can send your loved one into a downward spiral. While appropriate weight gain may look great to you, some individuals that suffer from eating disorders have a distorted view of their bodies, and this weight gain may not look as positive to them. Try to focus on their personality and energy as opposed to their physical appearance. For example, saying, you look really happy today would be more affirming.

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Criteria For Hospitalization For Anorexia

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, there are currently 20 million women and 10 million men with eating disorders in the United States. It goes without saying, people suffering from anorexia need to seek professional help and the earlier treatment is received, the better the outcome will be.

Learning How To Understand Their Feelings

How an eating disorder affects the way a person thinks

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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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.

How Are Eating Disorders Treated

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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Purging Disorder Vs Bulimia

Bulimia is a serious eating disorder that often occurs in a cycle of binge-eating behavior followed by a period of purging.

While bulimia and purging disorder can both share purging behaviors, the main difference between the two is that theres a compulsion to binge eat with bulimia.

Purging disorder is

  • significant emotional distress or disruption to social, work, or personal life
  • fear of gaining weight or obsession with losing weight
  • self-esteem issues heavily influenced by body shape or weight
  • You can be any shape or size and have an eating disorder. This is why its important to recognize the symptoms before your health is damaged.

    If you think you or a loved one may have an eating disorder, you can take an online-self assessment to determine if you have any behaviors that could potentially result in an eating disorder.

    However, its important to note that these assessments dont qualify as a diagnosis. If you think you have an eating disorder, speak with your doctor.

    Eating disorders like purging disorder can affect anyone, regardless of:

    • age
    • ethnicity
    • sexual orientation

    Stereotypes that eating disorders only affect teenage girls are both incorrect and damaging. This idea can often discourage people from seeking treatment.

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