Struggling with an eating disorder is a traumatic and difficult experience. If you’re watching a loved one suffer from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or another food-related disorder, you likely want to do everything in your power to help them.
Here, we’re going to talk about some ways that you can help someone close to you who has an eating disorder. Read on for some tips and tricks on how you can help them feel less alone.
Do Your Research
Eating disorders aren’t one size fits all. There are many different types, and it’s important to educate yourself on the specific one that your loved one is struggling with.
Just doing so will show your friend that you care about what they’re going through. The gesture alone shows them how important they are to you. On a practical level, it will make you a better listener when they talk to you.
If you don’t know specifically what your friend is struggling with, don’t force them to talk about it. They’ll let you know when they’re ready. Instead, educate yourself on eating disorders more broadly and learn about the common struggles that people with different disorders face.
Listen To Their Struggles
As with any mental illness, it’s important for those with eating disorders to know that they aren’t alone. It’s important that those who care about them take the time to listen to them without interrupting. Those struggling likely have a lot on their chest that they need to let out.
Try not to give unsolicited advice or try to solve their problems. That’s for a professional to do, and bad advice could cause more harm than good. You also want to avoid criticism because it might make your loved one feel guilty for their disorder (or for confiding in you).
Don’t pretend to have answers that you don’t have. Just be there for the person that you love. Let them know that they are important and they’re never a burden.
Encourage Professional Help
Part of helping someone who is struggling is knowing your own limitations. While you can provide support and a listening ear, you can’t give science-backed strategies for overcoming an eating disorder. You may want to, but you could do more damage than good. The professional team behind Virtue Recovery Eating Disorders says eating disorder treatment centers can give your loved one the practical assistance that you can’t. Experts fully understand the psychology of eating disorders and how to treat the root of the problem. They’re experienced in assisting people and getting them on the road to recovery.
Gently let your loved one know that help is available. Point them in the direction of professional resources that might be helpful. Research some benefits of eating disorder rehab online and tell them to your loved one so that they understand that help is available.
It’s important that you only do this when your loved one is ready. You don’t want to immediately tell them to go to a therapy program. Talk about it when you think they understand that their eating disorder is harming them and will be receptive to your advice.
Try To Help Their Self Esteem
You can’t help solve your loved one’s eating disorder. There’s no miracle “cure.” Only a professional can offer practical assistance.
However, there is one way you can help – by boosting their self-esteem.
Many people with eating disorders have poor body image. Body dysmorphia can make even the skinniest people feel fat and ugly. This is especially true in the age of social media.
Telling the other person how beautiful they are can go a long way. Tell them specific things that you find beautiful. If you love their eyes, let them know; if their hair is on point, say so.
Personality-based compliments are even better than appearance-based compliments. Tell your loved one what a great person they are and how much you love spending time with them. Let them know the qualities that you admire in them, such as courage, kindness, confidence, or intelligence.
Don’t Center Get-Togethers Around Food
People meet up for food-related activities more than they realize. Going out for dinner, grabbing lunch, or even just stopping by the coffee shop are friendship staples. Unfortunately, for those with eating disorders, these invitations can be immensely stressful.
Don’t stop inviting them when you decide to get food with a friend group. They’ll appreciate the invitation. You don’t want them to feel excluded.
But if you’re going to hang out with them one-on-one, it might be best to stick to activities unrelated to food. Some great ideas include:
- Chatting at someone’s home
- Taking a walk around the park
- Playing mini-golf
- Going bowling
- Seeing a movie together
- Going sightseeing in your area
- Taking a shopping trip
Get creative and try new things!
Suggest Simple Healthy Recipes
If and only if your loved one asks you to do so (or says they would like you to), you can suggest simple healthy recipes for them to enjoy. Many people with eating disorders are slow to begin eating. When they resolve to start, they often want especially healthy food.
Suggest simple fruits as snacks. You can tell them what fruit combinations you prefer. Vegetables and healthy dips like hummus also make great shareable snacks.
If they want meal ideas, salads are always a good starting point. Something with spinach or collard greens paired with delicious cheese is always wonderful, especially when sprinkled with some nuts and dried cranberries. Lemon juice makes a great alternative to high-calorie dressing.
Make sure that this is solicited before trying it. Don’t try to give your loved one food-related tips without consent. It can make them feel uncomfortable, helpless, and guilty for talking to you about their struggles.
Help A Loved One With An Eating Disorder The Right Way
Now that you know some ways you can support a friend or family with an eating disorder, it’s time to get ready to do the emotional labor of being someone’s rock. After all, you need to take care of yourself before you can provide quality support to others.