How Can You Help Someone You Know With An Eating Disorder?

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One of the most common mental disorders is all around us, but is rarely noticed or treated. It is considered the most fatal mental disorder, yet only one-third of all individuals struggling with anorexia obtain treatment.

Anorexia can also be one of the most difficult to treat, even when those struggling turn to professional help voluntarily. Societal pressures, misconceptions of your own body, and widespread misunderstandings of the condition make it difficult for many who struggle with anorexia to recover. Few are aware of the true dangers of eating disorders, and there is widespread dismissal of those who deal with these types of disorders.

Far too many who struggle with eating disorders are told they just need to start eating again or stop purging, but it is very rarely that easy to treat anorexia or bulimia. These conditions aren’t simple choices, but often they have deep psychological roots and they can be genetic, so the condition can affect entire families.

If you think eating disorders aren’t a serious problem, consider the 30 million estimated people who suffer from these conditions. Chances are you know someone who struggles with an eating disorder without you ever knowing. But, if you begin to believe someone you know or care about suffers from an eating disorder, it is important to know how to properly address the situation and help point them towards help in a healthy manner.

The best help for those struggling with anorexia or bulimia is professional counseling and treatment, but just getting someone dealing with an eating disorder to consider professional help can be tricky. Even if you do, much of the recovery hinges on support and consideration from friends and family.

Ashley Lauren Samsa from Care2 shared five ways you personally can help someone with an eating disorder. Whether you are trying to help a friend find help, or simply supporting them after they have begun professional treatment, these tips will help create a safe environment that should make it easier for those struggling with an eating disorder to get healthy.

1. Find the Right Time

One of the most dangerous parts of treating an eating disorder is finding the right time to have the hard talk with the person you believe is struggling. It can be a big mistake to try to invite them to a meal or around a stressful situation. Facing an eating disorder can be difficult, and stressful situations can entirely derail the efforts. You also want to make sure you will be able to continue to support them after you find the chance to talk. It is important to approach the issue as calmly as possible.

2. Don’t Focus on Meals

As implied before, meals can be highly stressful for someone with an eating disorder. If your friend or family member has already been diagnosed, you should try to avoid centering activities around food. Find other ways to spend time together like shopping or enjoying a nice day outside.

3. Don’t Monitor

It can be very tempting to try to monitor your friend’s eating, but it is essential that you avoid hovering or trying to be too forceful. You need to keep from isolating your friend, and you can’t cure an eating disorder by keeping track of how much they eat or how often they are making trips to the bathroom. It is your job to support. Let the professionals take care of monitoring your friends health.

4. Be Patient

Eating disorders are rarely “cured”. Treating a disorder can be a lifelong process, and even those who have reached a healthy lifestyle can struggle with perceptions of their own bodies and weight. You shouldn’t expect a quick fix, and your friend may even get worse before they start improving. Patience and support will let you assist them in finding the help they need without putting extra pressure on them.

5. Inform Someone

If you feel unequipped to help someone you suspect has an eating disorder, or your friend refuses to get help when their health is in jeopardy, it can be vital to inform someone else of your concerns. Eating disorders should be a private issue, but when you reach a point where you feel like you aren’t helping enough, it can be good to talk to your friend’s parents or partner. Even a school counselor or nurse can be a good choice to figure out what the next steps need to be.

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