Category Archives: Eating disorders

How To Support Someone Suffering An Eating Disorder (from someone who has made it down the long, hard road to recovery.)

She runs frantically back and forth in the basement. She hopes she is being vigorous enough. The 3 big bowls of cereal she just ate must be burned away. A cramp pierces her side, she presses on angrily.  She despises the bloated feeling in her stomach. She hates herself for being so disgusting, bingeing like that on sugary cereal. She must have taken in at least 1000 calories. She feels the fat filling into her cheeks, visualizes the double chin that must be forming.  She speeds up, swings her arms harder, lifts her knees higher. She glances at the clock. 45 minutes to go. At least. No music plays as she does this desperate exercise. This is not for her enjoyment . This is for her punishment. Her motivation doesn’t come from a desire for health. It comes from fear. Fear of gaining weight. Fear of losing control. And anger. Anger that she lost control by eating all of that cereal.

She won’t be eating anything else for the next 2 days.

The cramps in her side get sharper. She cries out in pain, but doesn’t stop. She must finish this 2 hours of calorie burning. She hates her body for trying to stop her. The cramp twists up toward her rib cage. She speeds up in frustration. Tears stream down her face. She hurts. She is thirsty. She is soaked with sweat. She is exhausted. She is desperate. Desperate to maintain control. She was doing so well, for so long. But she got too hungry. She gave in. And now her disorder has control of her.

5 Ways To Support Someone Suffering / Recovering From An Eating Disorder:

1.) Be There: Help them break the habit of secrecy.

When someone has an eating disorder, they are extremely secretive with their behaviours. Counting calories, any eating they do, bingeing, purging behaviours all happen when they are alone.  They might hoard and hide food, dispose of it in sneaky ways. You can try to help break through the secrecy by offering to be there. Offer to eat meals with them, offer to go with them on calm after dinner walks. It’s really important to offer without forcing the issue. Putting pressure on will drive them further into their secretive behaviour. Ask how they are doing often.  Try opening up to them about something in life you are struggling with, and it might help encourage them to start talking. If you are lucky enough to get them talking, listen without judgement. Eating disorders come with feelings of self loathing and shame. Compliment them on their bravery in opening up, and just listen.

2.) Invite Them Out Often: Help reduce their isolation.

Eating disorders are very isolating. Sufferers often turn down social invites to spend time obsessing, compulsively exercising, recovering from binge eating episodes. Try to reduce this isolation by inviting them out often. Keep on inviting them no matter how many times they reject you. Dont give up on them. Try organizing team sport events with friends, or invite them for a yoga class. The exercise might appeal to them, and is much healthier than the compulsive exercise they do alone.

3.) Choose Topics Of Conversation Wisely: Avoid perpetuating their obsession.

Someone who suffers with an eating disorder is haunted by and obsessed with food, calories, and body image. When they are with you, you can help them be a little less preoccupied by avoiding ALL discussion of these topics. Ignore any comments they make about their body, redirect the conversation. Even telling them you think they are “too skinny” is a bad idea, because it can motivate them. It’s like positive reinforcement.  Refuse to feed into their obsession. This means no talk of dieting, “fattening” foods, body weight and size, even if you are talking about yourself.

4.) Help Them Feel A Sense Of Control

Someone suffering with an eating disorder longs for control over their lives. Eating disorder behaviour is an attempt to gain control over their body, but ironically the eating disorder ends up controlling them. Even though you are concerned and just want them to eat, never try to force food on them, or tempt them with food. This will only increase their desire for control, and make them very unlikely to admit they are suffering. It’s also very important to avoid investigating them, or accusing them of abnormal behaviour. These things will only drive them further into isolation and secrecy. Instead, encourage them to be honest by saying you are there for them whenever they might be ready to talk. Say you are concerned and ask them what you can do to help. This turns some control over to them, and might help them feel more ready to talk. Ultimately, the decision to seek help is entirely up to the sufferer. You will never be able to talk them into it. What you can do is offer to go with them, to be there for them when they decide on their own to open up and seek help.

5.) Have Realistic Expectations: Be aware of how serious the fight for recovery will be.

Realize that recovery from an eating disorder is not a matter of simply deciding one day to eat normally. Getting better is a long, hard, physically and emotionally painful fight. Eating disorders are very powerful addictions and it is almost impossible or overcome them without professional help. You can help your loved ones by making sure you have realistic expectations. Take it one day at a time. It will take them a long time to recover, and there could be many relapses on the way. Praise their brave efforts, let them know you believe in them. Be there, to listen , to hug, to show empathy. Never give up on them, and hopefully they will never give up on themselves.

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Thank you for reading.

Be Brave, and Talk