How to support someone with an eating disorder
If a loved one has opened up to you about their eating disorder, it can be very difficult to know what to say to them because, naturally, you will have concerns about saying the wrong thing.
There is no right or wrong way to speak to someone with an eating disorder and different approaches work for different people. There are, however, a number of things you can do to help the person you care about.
- Be prepared - Educate yourself about eating disorders so you can have some kind of understanding about how the person might be feeling. Also be prepared for the fact that as they struggle to come to terms with their condition, the sufferer may experience high levels of anxiety, shame, embarrassment, guilt or denial.
- Use the right language - Let the person know that you care about them, want to help them and will be there to support them through every stage of the recovery process. Try to use ‘I’ statements such as ‘I care about you’ or ‘I’m worried about you.’
- Encourage - allow your loved one to express how they’re feeling.
Give them time and space - never try to force someone to open up about their feelings until they’re comfortable doing so.
- Listen - listen to them respectfully and don’t make any judgements or criticisms. Your loved one may have specific reasons for their eating disorder, for example they overeat or binge-eat for comfort or to ease anxiety, or withhold food to feel in control. Allow them to let you in.
- Avoid certain language - don’t use language that implies that the person has done anything wrong, such as ‘you’re making me feel really worried.’ Avoid commenting on their appearance or being critical. Instead, focus on relationships and express your concern for their health.
- Don’t try to take on the role of a therapist – just try to listen and offer support rather than try to analyse too closely.
- Encourage them to seek help - if they haven’t already, it is best to encourage them to go to a professional for help.