How to help someone who has an eating disorder
Like with any mental health condition, it is important to understand it in order to support someone who is diagnosed with it. My last few blog posts have discussed eating disorders in general, and the four types; anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED), and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). This blog post will discuss what to look out for in people who may have or are starting to develop an eating disorder, and how the people around them can provide support.
It can be difficult to see that someone has an eating disorder, and many people are unwilling to disclose that they have a problem, even to their loved ones and friends. People with bulimia, for example, often keep their normal weight, hide their illness from other people and are reluctant to get help for their condition. Varieties of this can be seen in other eating disorders as well so it can be difficult to realise when someone needs help. Therefore, spotting changes in a person’s mood and feelings, as well as their feelings towards food, may be the first signs of something being wrong.
More specifically, signs of a person having an eating disorder may include them becoming obsessive about food; having distorted views of their body; exercising excessively; being tired and struggling with concentration; disappearing to the toilet after they have eaten a meal; and experiencing behaviour changes. It is also important to remember that anyone can develop an eating disorder, no matter their gender, age, or background.
For anyone who is concerned for someone because they think they may have an eating disorder, it is important to approach that person with understanding and compassion, and to remember that by talking to them about it, you are not accusing the person of doing something wrong, but you are concerned for a reason. Getting help for an eating disorder as soon as possible allows for the best chance at recovery, and so by having an often difficult conversation can be beneficial in the long run.
Due to people who have an eating disorder often being secretive regarding it and defensive about their weight and eating habits, they may be in denial as well. For someone living with an eating disorder, making the first step in getting professional help is often one of the most difficult. Having a friend or family member for support can be a help, and by letting them know that there is someone worried about them can be a starting point. A member of such a support network could also try to encourage the person to see their GP in order to seek help, and even offer to go with them for support if they want them to.
Supporting a person who has an eating disorder does not always have to be in a practical way such as going to a GP appointment with them, it can also be in other ways such as finding out as much information as you can about eating disorders in order to try and understand what the person is experiencing. This can be good to do when also giving time to listen to them, if they choose to talk to you, as even though a person may not agree with what someone is saying, you can understand the reasons for why they are saying it. Like in a lot of situations in life, by just being there for someone with a listening ear can be a huge help and more of a support than is often realised. Such a relationship can also be used to try and build up the person’s self-esteem by telling them they are appreciated and a valued person to have in your life, along with trying to include them in things so they don’t feel left out.
By wanting to help someone who has an eating disorder, half the battle is already done as many people don’t want or know how to go about giving help and support to others who have a mental health disorder. I think finding out more information about what a person is diagnosed with can be the most important step to then learning about how to support that person. There is a lot of information and support in the references section that can also help with this.
Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons) Cert HE
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