How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

Approaching a loved one about their eating disorder can be a scary and delicate task. No matter how many warning signs you may see, there is still the fear that you could be wrong, that you’ll say the wrong thing, or that you’ll push the person away. The last thing you want to do is make the problem worse.

No matter how daunting it may be, you owe it to your loved one to talk about their destructive behavior and encourage them to seek professional help. Eating disorders are a progressive mental illness that can potentially be fatal. Without treatment, 20 percent of people with a serious eating disorder will die.

How to Talk to Someone with an Eating Disorder

Here are the Dos and Don­ts of how to help someone with an eating disorder.

DO:
* Approach your loved one in a non-confrontational matter.
* Be prepared to give specific examples of the behaviors that concern you.
* Be gentle, yet firm, when expressing your concerns.
* Recommend specific treatment options.
* Be persistent. Don’­t let your loved one’s denial or initial anger at you deter you from speaking with her again or continuing to encourage treatment.
* Avoid power struggles over food.
* Hold the person responsible for behaviors that negatively affect others.
* Accept that you cannot force your loved one to get help.

DON’­T:
* Don’t try to blame, shame or guilt your loved one into eating differently.
* Don’t diminish their illness by saying things like, “Everything would be okay if only you’­d stop.”®
* Don’t enable your loved one by avoiding foods or eating in a way that accommodates their eating disorder.
* Don’t make comments about their appearance. This will only strengthen their negative body image.
* Don’t make mealtimes a battle.
* Don’t start policing their behavior by constantly monitoring their eating habits.
* Don’t assume responsibility or become a hostage of your loved one’­s behavior.

Types of Eating Disorder Treatment to Recommend

No amount of love and support you give can replace the need for professional treatment. The best thing you can do for a person with an eating disorder is to encourage them to seek professional help. There are many types of treatments for eating disorders, and each option should be tailored to your loved one’­s specific needs, symptoms and emotional issues. These treatments can include therapy, psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, group support, inpatient treatment, residential care, holistic treatments, or a combination of any of these.

How to Show Support during Recovery

Recovering from an eating disorder is possible, but it is often a long journey that can be full of detours and missteps. The most important thing you can do during a loved one’­s recovery from an eating disorder is to have patience, compassion and continue to provide encouragement. Other things you can do to help your loved one during the delicate first stages of recovery are:

* Educate yourself. The more you learn about eating disorders, the better equipped you’­ll be to help your loved one avoid relapse and cope with the challenges of recovery.
* Be a positive role model. Set a good example for your loved one by living a healthy lifestyle and having a positive attitude about yourself. If you’­re constantly dieting or making judgmental statements about your own body, how is your loved one supposed to change his or her behavior?
* Don’­t be an enabler. It can be easy to get caught up in your loved one’­s recovery, but make sure you don’­t become preoccupied with their life and continue to live your own. If your loved one’s behaviors have taken an emotional toll on you, consider attending your own support group or talking to a therapist.

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