If you are worried about the body image, weight, and/or eating patterns of someone you care about, this can be a very overwhelming and challenging time. We are glad you found this blog, as researching eating disorders is often one of the first steps in helping someone who is struggling with eating concerns. Below, find some effective guidelines on how to help. For additional information, please contact The Anxiety and Stress Center.
Continue to research as much information as possible regarding eating disorders and body image. We strongly recommend that you limit your information gathering to reputable sources such as the National Eating Disorder Association, books, scholarly articles, and treatment center brochures. Pay special attention to the difference between facts and fiction about weight, exercise, and food intake. Knowing these facts will help you inform your friend against any myths he or she might be using to reinforce the disordered eating.
Be Honest, Caring, and Firm
Ignoring the disordered eating patterns and body image concerns of your family member will not make it go away. Set a private time to talk to your loved one, away from other distractions. Being open and honest about your concerns will let your loved one know you care. However, it is important to be firm in helping your friend recognize they are responsible for their actions. Do not set unfair rules or expectations on your friend, i.e., “Eat or I won’t talk to you again.” Do not make promises that will only help your friend continue the disorder eating, i.e., “I won’t tell anyone.”
Be a Role Model
Demonstrate self-acceptance as well as healthy eating patterns and exercise habits. Compliment your friend on their personality and efforts and do not focus simply on appearance.
If you are concerned about a friend, reach out to a trusted parent, teacher or coach. If you are a parent of a child who may struggle with disordered eating, it is important to seek professional help. Addressing body image and eating concerns during the initial stages of the disorder provides the best chance for recovery.
Avoid Shame, Control, or Guilt
When someone is struggling with disordered eating, avoid focusing immediately on food. Eating disorders involve complex emotional struggles, and cannot simply be “fixed” by forcing someone to eat. Statements like, “just eat” or “look what you’re doing to this family” only add to the guilt and shame surrounding disordered eating. Express continued support and understanding.
National Eating Disorder Association,
Sara M. Gruzlewski, Psy.D.
The Anxiety & Stress Center, P.C.