Your loved one may deny having an eating disorder or may become angry and defensive. However, it’s important you don’t give up. It may take some time before your loved one is willing to open up and admit to having a problem. Still, as difficult as it is to know that someone you love has an eating disorder, you cannot force someone to change. Unless it’s a young child, the decision to seek recovery has to come from them. But you can help by making it clear that you’ll continue to be there for him or her, with your compassion and support, whenever they’re ready to tackle the problem.
Be careful to avoid critical or accusatory statements, as this will only bring out your friend’s or family member’s defenses. Instead, focus on the specific behaviors that worry you.
- Focus on feelings and relationships, not on weight and food. Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about the person’s eating behavior. Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional help.
- Tell them you are concerned about their health, but respect their privacy. Eating disorders are often a cry for help, and the individual will appreciate knowing that you are concerned.
- Do not comment on how they look. The person is already too aware of their body. Even if you are trying to compliment them, comments about weight or appearance only reinforce their obsession with body image and weight.
- Make sure you do not convey any fat prejudice, or reinforce their desire to be thin. If they say they feel fat or want to lose weight, don't say "You're not fat." Instead, suggest they explore their fears about being fat, and what they think they can achieve by being thin.
- Avoid power struggles about eating. Do not demand that they change. Do not criticize their eating habits. People with eating disorders are trying to be in control. They don't feel in control of their life. Trying to trick or force them to eat can make things worse.
Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the person regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” Or, “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.”
- Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, "If you'd just stop, then everything would be fine!"
After talking to your friend about their eating disorder and bringing up the idea of recovery, it's time to tell someone else. The school counselor if you're in college or public school, or even as far as that person's regular doctor or parents. NEDA has lots of resources for families looking to help their children or siblings with eating disorders. The point is: Your friend needs help and understanding. Don't wait until their life is in danger or until it's simply too late. Tell someone sooner, not later.
Because I Feel Fat: Helping the ones you love deal with an eating disorder; By Johanna Marie McShane, PH.D
"Because I Feel Fat: Helping the Ones You Love Deal with an Eating Disorder" is a comprehensive guide that gives family, friends, and loved ones a thorough understanding of what eating disorders are and how to help their loved ones recover. Easy to read and understand, "Because I Feel Fat" breaks down complex disorders into simple terms that gives everyone, from the sufferer and worried loved one, a common ground of understanding. Through painfully honest and heartbreaking first-person stories, gathered from interviews with women suffering from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, the reader learns what it is like to have an eating disorder, in hopes that this insight will answer questions and identify the keys to helping with recovery.""Because I Feel Fat..."is a thorough and comprehensive book that will be of great value to both those who have an eating disorder and to their significant others. It fills a much needed gap in the resources that exist today by offering in detail the perspective of people who suffer from eating disorders."
Friends Helping Friends: A Guide To Approaching Peers About Their Potential Eating Disorder; by Allison K. Spivack, Amanda J. Roberts
(from the authors):
It provides resources and insights regarding body image, dealing with your own issues, treatment options, risk factors, and much more. Most importantly, this book is a guide and teaches the reader how to approach a peer about the incredibly sensitive issue of an eating disorder. There is even a workbook at the back to help you lay out your approach. I hope you find this book useful, encouraging, and empowering.