How to Help Someone Recover from an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are dangerous; they can even be life threatening. Eating disorders aren’t about food; they’re about serious emotional disorders. If someone you love has an eating disorder, it’s imperative that they seek professional treatment. Your love and emotional support can be crucial to your loved one’s recovery; here’s how you can help someone recover from an eating disorder.

Understand Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders aren’t vain, and often they maintain a normal body weight. People don’t develop eating disorders because they’re concerned about the way they look; they develop eating disorders to help themselves cope with feelings of powerlessness, lack of control, shame, guilt and other difficult emotions.

People with binge eating disorder and bulimia overeat to deal with difficult feelings like sadness, loneliness or anger. Bulimics might purge to deal with feelings of shame and helplessness to control their eating habits. Anorexics restrict food in an effort to feel in control of their lives. Over time, people with eating disorders begin to suffer from body dysmorphia, a psychological phenomenon in which patients lose the ability to see what they really look like. The patient’s obsession with food and diet becomes so powerful that she can’t think of anything else.

Learn the Symptoms of Eating Disorders

If you think a friend or loved one has an eating disorder, you might want to look for some of these warning signs:

  • Obsession with body shape or size, weight, calories, food and nutrition
  • Constant dieting, even when it seems unnecessary
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Use of laxatives or diet pills
  • Avoiding social situations where food might be consumed
  • Going to the bathroom after eating
  • Eating alone and in secret
  • Hoarding food to eat later in secret

Talk to Your Friend or Relative

If you think a friend or relative has an eating disorder, the first step in getting them help is to express your concerns. Talk about specific incidents in which you were concerned about your loved one’s eating behaviors or exercise patterns. Gently explain that you think your loved one may have a problem that requires professional help.

Don’t fight with your loved one. If your friend or relative refuses to admit that she has a problem, simply restate your concerns and make it known that you’ll be available if your loved one needs to talk.

Don’t place blame or use statements that may make your loved one feel ashamed. Remember, she is probably already struggling with intense feelings of shame and guilt. Tell your loved one how you feel about her behavior, but don’t try to tell your loved one how you think she ought to behave, and don’t oversimplify the problem by suggesting that your loved one ought to just resume eating normally once again.

Don’t Give Up

Your loved one may not respond positively to your first attempts to help. Your loved one may react with anger or denial. Be patient. It may take some time for your loved one to face the emotions at the core of his or her eating disorder.


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