What to Do If a Loved One Has an Eating Disorder
Your closest family member or friend may have an eating disorder but may disguise it well enough to make it difficult to recognize. By their very nature, eating disorders are a source of shame and, as such, people go to great lengths to keep the condition a secret. By learning how to recognize eating disorders and how to approach someone you suspect of suffering from one, you will be in a far better position to help your loved one or friend. This will make it easier to encourage them to seek some form of treatment, such as eating disorder programs you can find online for help.
The signs and symptoms of an eating disorder
When people think of eating disorders, they most commonly think of anorexia, and that is certainly a common condition. With anorexia symptoms, there are some telltale signs of the problem, including a reluctance to eat meals. Where the individual is unable to avoid the meal altogether, she will likely eat just a very small portion and will only eat low-calorie items. When eating, she may obsessively rearrange food on her plate and eat the foods in a specific order. She may also be taking diet pills, prescription stimulants or illegal drugs, like speed or crystal meth.
Binge eating is another disorder and may be easier to recognize. Look for this person to eat large quantities of food in short periods and hide food wrappers in the trash. She may be disguising it in other containers or pushing it to the bottom of the trash. She may also be hoarding high-calorie foods, keeping a supply hidden from discovery. While she will likely eat normally in the presence of others, she will binge on her stash when alone.
Sometimes associated with binging, purging is a separate eating disorder that involves forcing oneself to vomit after eating a meal. Watch for this in people who frequently disappear right after eating or promptly excuse themselves to the bathroom. She may run the shower or bath to hide the sound of vomiting and will often keep a supply of mouthwash, breath mints or chewing gum on hand. She may also use laxatives, diuretics or enemas to help with the purging process.
How to help a friend with a suspected eating disorder
If you suspect a friend, sister, daughter or other loved one suffers from an eating disorder, it is important for you to speak up. Even if you are mistaken, you can clear the air and also let the loved one know you are concerned for her wellbeing. There are some key points to consider when making the decision to approach your loved one. Handling the situation badly may result in alienating her and that is the last thing you want to do.
First, choose the best time. The talk should be scheduled, so you can choose a time when the two of you can be alone and won’t be distracted by others. Also, try to put her in a good mood first. If she is agitated, she will likely not respond well to anything you have to say.
Second, voice your concerns without sounding accusatory. Simply explain the behavior you have noticed and tell her that you are troubled by her actions. Make sure she understands that you are speaking out of concern and want to help her in getting help for an eating disorder.
Even if you handle the discussion well, she will probably still feel defensive and deny that there is a problem. She will feel threatened by the conversation, so don’t resort to personal attacks. It is important for you to stay calm and focused.
Finally, be persistent. While she may not open up to you the first time or the second, she will come to understand you are trying to be supportive. When she is ready to face her problem, your loved one will come to you. Once she opens up, you can help her get the treatment she needs.
Article by Laura Avino