How to Talk to a Loved One About an Eating Disorder

October 8th, 2015
How to Talk to a Loved One About an Eating Disorder

Often overlooked as a mental illness, eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal relationship with food. When a person suffers from an eating disorder, the way they view food changes and with it their eating habits. They also experience a distorted view of their body image. The most common examples of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but there are many other kinds too, including:

  • Binge-eating disorder
  • Atypical anorexia
  • Purging disorder
  • Night eating syndrome
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
  • Pica
  • Rumination disorder

Eating disorders can be complex and difficult to understand, both for the individual and the people around them. If you have a friend or relative who is suffering with an eating disorder, here is some advice to help you talk to them.

Reach out

Communication helps people to feel valued, supported and loved. Although it can be difficult to reach out to someone going through a difficult time, it is important to try and open up channels of communication if possible. People suffering with eating disorders often feel afraid to ask for help, and might not know how to start a conversation about their problem. Others can struggle with such low self esteem that they feel as though they don’t deserve help. Eating disorders worsen without treatment, and the emotional and physical damage can be severe. Talking to your loved one could be the first step in helping them to recover.

Be concerned, but not critical

When you approach someone with an eating disorder, it’s important to communicate your worries in a manner that is loving but not confrontational. Try to remain respectful, calm, focused and positive during conversations. Be careful not to sound accusatory or critical, as this might make your loved one feel defensive. Focus on feelings and relationships rather than weight or food, and tell them you are concerned about their health whilst still respecting their privacy. Sometimes an eating disorder is a cry for help, so your friend or family member will appreciate your concern.

Don’t focus on body image

It’s also important not to focus on image when you are talking to your loved one about their problem. Any comments, no matter how complimentary, will reinforce their obsession with weight and body image. Don’t demand that they eat more or criticise their eating habits. People suffering with eating disorders are often attempting to be in control of their lives, so trying to force them to change might make things worse.

Get professional help

It might take a while for your friend or relative to admit they have an eating disorder and open up about it. Try not to give up if they seem unwilling to talk; let them know that you are there for them should they ever want to open up. As a concerned relative or friend it might be beneficial for you to speak to a support organisation or medical professional before approaching your loved one about their eating disorder. Doing so will help you gain a better understanding of the problem and provide you with further advice about how to discuss the it with the person you care about.

 

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