How to Help Someone With Disordered Eating
As a psychotherapist mostly specializing in women with food and body image issues, I often get questions via e-mail and phone regarding how family and friends can help a loved one who is experiencing disordered eating. I have some very valuable resources on this topic on my main website, https://estherkane.com under “disordered eating.” I recommend that you peruse these as they have a load of invaluable information for both people with disordered eating and for those who want to support them. For this article, I have gathered what I think are some of the best sources of information on the topic. I hope they are helpful to you or someone you know.
The first section is adapted from The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada) website: https://www.nedic.ca I strongly urge you to check out this website as it has a lot of great information and useful resources:
It is often difficult for family and friends to understand why someone they love is experiencing food and weight problems.Though frustrating, it is important to realize that only the person experiencing the difficulty can make the decision to get help and choose what kind of help they need and want.
An eating disorder is a coping strategy that an individual uses to deal with deeper problems which are too painful or difficult to address directly. There is a wide range of services available, not all of which will be appropriate for the person. It is not beneficial for him/her to stay in a treatment setting that is found to be unhelpful, or possibly even damaging. The sufferer is the one who needs to make the ultimate decision about the help they get.
When first approaching your friend or family member, understand that they might not welcome your concern and may even react with anger or denial. They will discuss their eating disorder with someone when they feel ready. They will probably feel more able to do so if they know that you are concerned, but not going to force them into anything before they are ready (an exception may be if the condition constitutes a medical emergency). Be prepared for the possibility that a discussion about their eating problems might not lead to any change in attitude or behaviour on their part. Again, this is because the person may have very good reasons for not giving up the eating disorder as a “coping strategy”.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO WHEN SOMEONE YOU CARE ABOUT STRUGGLES WITH DISORDERED EATING
- Have Patience-anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive eating can take a long time to resolve. However, recovery is nothing should be forced upon anyone, as their choices should be their own. This approach encourages empowerment.
- Support the person-let them know you care and that you are aware of what is happening. Listen attentively and allow the person to express their feelings. Be prepared for a range of emotional responses such as denial and anger.
- The influences of language-avoid discussions about weight, body shape, fat and food. Focus on activities that are not associated with food or appearance.
- Persistence and love- maintain a relationship with the person. Do not give up! Though it can be difficult to accept, it is their vulnerability to these destructive patterns that facilitate their preoccupation with weight loss. Keep the lines of communication open. Although the person may pull away from you, do not take their behavior personally.
- Information is power-learn about disordered eating: support groups, signs, symptoms, books, facts, myths, resources, peer support, treatments, counselling, healthy living, body image, self-esteem, etc. Recovery can be a frustrating process and this knowledge can alleviate feelings of powerlessness.
- The value of friendship- do not take on the role of therapist. It is the trust between friends that has great value in a healing relationship. Do not badger the person about eating; you cannot cure them. They have to take responsibility for changes. It will happen when they are ready.
- Avoid Judgement- reflection and examine your beliefs towards body shape, diets and fat prejudice. Personal comments may unknowingly promote a desire for thinness.
- Provide Resources-assist the individual to seek help. Be there for them in the most appropriate way that both of you feel comfortable with.
- Let go of blame-disordered eating can be a manifestation of many forms of stress. Blame reinforces a sense of failure and distance. Feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and decreased self-confidence are usually contributing factors.
- Keep in touch-recovery does not occur in isolation. This may mean seeking advice about your concerns from family members, friends, a school counsellor, or a public health nurse. Your efforts may save a life. Early intervention increases chances of recovery and decreases the chance of relapse later on.
*Adapted from the NationalEating Disorders Information Centre (Toronto) and the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association (Windsor)
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT DISORDERED EATING?
- Learn all you can about anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Genuine awareness will help you avoid judgmental or mistaken attitudes about food, weight, body shape, and eating disorders.
- Discourage the idea that a particular diet, weight, or body size will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment.
- Choose to challenge the false belief that thinness and weight loss are great, while body fat and weight gain are horrible or indicate laziness, worthlessness, or immorality.
- Avoid categorizing foods as “good/safe” vs. “bad/dangerous.” Remember, we all need to eat a balanced variety of foods.
- Decide to avoid judging others and yourself on the basis of body weight or shape. Turn off the voices in your head that tell you that a person’s body weight says anything about their character, personality, or value as a person.
- Avoid conveying an attitude that says, “I will like you better if you lose weight, or don’t eat so much, etc.”
- Become a critical viewer of the media and its messages about self-esteem and body image. Talk back to the television when you hear a comment or see an image that promotes thinness at all costs. Rip out (or better yet, write to the editor about) advertisements or articles in your magazines that make you feel bad about your body shape or size.
- Be a model of healthy self-esteem and body image. Recognize that others pay attention and learn from the way you talk about yourself and your body. Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation. Choose to value yourself based on your goals, accomplishments, talents, and character. Avoid letting the way you feel about your body weight and shape determine the course of your day. Embrace the natural diversity of human bodies and celebrate your body’s unique shape and size.
* Adapted from the National Eating Disorders Association’s website: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
About Esther Kane, MSW, Registered Clinical Counsellor
Esther Kane, MSW, Registered Clinical Counsellor, is in full-time private practise as a psychotherapist in Courtenay, B.C. Esther has over a decade of experience counselling women and their loved ones with a multitude of presenting problems. Her main focus is helping women to become free of barriers which keep them stuck so that they can become all that they dream of being.
To book a session or to set up a free 15-minute phone consultation (only if you reside in the Comox Valley or surrounding areas), call Esther at (250) 338-1800.
To learn more about Esther’s services, please visit her website and read glowing testimonials from many satisfied clients, https://www.estherkane.com
Please note: due to the high volume of e-mails received, Esther only replies to potential therapy clients and the media.
Books by Esther
“WHAT YOUR MAMA CAN’T OR WON’T TEACH YOU: GROWN WOMEN’S STORIES OF THEIR TEEN YEARS”
”Esther Kane, MSW, RCC, has collected a delightful set of stories in her book, “What Your Mama Can’t or Won’t Teach You: Grown Women’s Stories of Their Teen Years.” The voices of 20 women are interweaved with each other to create a conversation-like book of women talking about their early struggles. The issues discussed are diverse and cover so many things that affected the way they grew into adults. Their insight back into what shaped them the most is sometimes funny, other times heartbreaking and often poignant. Esther interviewed these women on topics that she asked her teen clients they would most like to read about. What amassed is wisdom from a generation of women who survived and are willing to share their experiences to the youth of today.”
– Lori Henry, Eating Disorders Writer
“DUMP THAT CHUMP: A Ten-step plan for ending bad relationships and attracting the fabulous partner you deserve”
”This is a well written and easy to follow guide for all women that struggle to find that perfect match for a lifetime relationship. The information you will gain will help strengthen your understanding in how very important positive self-talk is: it will strengthen your ability to not repeat wrong decisions in regards to relationship choices.
It will also show you how that phrase, “settling”, is not and should not be acceptable to you. You will learn that settling for someone or something eventually drowns your own ideas of what you deserve in life as far as a partner is concerned. People choose to settle because it is safer, more predictable, easier to control and a lot less challenging than actually striving for more.
The author uses this very powerful phrase to help you look at the core of your bad decisions, “What You Expect Is What You Get”. If you expect nothing then you will get nothing. DTC will also teach you how to retrain your mind so that you can get to know yourself through positive self-acceptance. To know and understand who you are is a definite key in helping you to make the correct choice in relationships. Lets face it, no one wants to be stuck in a bad relationship. Womensselfesteem.com highly recommends, ”Dump That Chump” as a very good source book in opening your eyes to the many reasons that we end up in failed relationships!”
-Review by Dorothy of Womensselfesteem.com
To find out more about the book, go to:
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Esther Kane, MSW, RCC