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Rules of Eating Disorder Support

How to properly support a person with an eating disorder.  Learn what to say and what not to say to a person with an eating disorder.Support is, at times, hard to give a person living with an eating disorder. He or she will most likely push you away when you try to help them, and they will isolate themselves as much as they can, as well as abuse things like laxatives, ipecac, and diuretics. They will sneak in exercising and hide food when you give it to them, but don't let this discourage or infuriate you. Remember that the eating disorder that he or she has lived with is like an identity to them. Imagine one day waking up in a totally new place. A new house, job, life, planet, etc., with everything that you once knew so well now gone. That is what someone with an eating disorder encounters once they start the road to recovery. With an eating disorder you become so used to the starving and rituals involved with anorexia, and the immediate relief and high you get from purging, that it is incredibly hard to just totally stop.

In the beginning, the person with the eating disorder will most likely deny that they even have a problem. Those with anorexia, especially, have a high denial rate because they cannot see how they really look, and instead only see themselves as obese failures. Most say they are "too fat" to be anorexic, and many have been regarded as the "perfect" child so they are too afraid to admit to themselves that there are actual problems. No matter what eating disorder, those who suffer feel they are not worth help, and their minds will tell them that they shouldn't waste other people's time when they are such "failures" anyways.

Knowing these things, never forget that eating disorders recovery is a long road full of speed bumps and pot holes. In recovery, we tend to turn cold and unresponsive, and even shove and push those away from us, but don't think that that doesn't mean that we don't want help. Deep down inside those suffering is a wish to truly be free from this hell. By pushing you away, those with an eating disorder are only isolating themselves more because they believe that they are not worthy or deserving of love/help.

Your support will be one of the most important things in that person's recovery. Remember that getting angry or frustrated at the person, or yelling at them, will only reinforce how much trouble and how much of a failure the person already feels, which always leads to the eating disorder worsening. Always have open ears and always calmly talk things, but don't be fake (we can detect it like little radars). Most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP on the person.

What Not to Say to Someone With an Eating Disorder

Do NOT comment on appearance. If you make comments such as, "Oh, you look so much healthier!" the person with an eating disorder will twist that around and interpret it as meaning that they have gained weight and are now "fat." Also, don't make this kind of comment either - "Wow, you are so thin! I wish I had your willpower." The person will take that as a compliment and it only reinforces their wanting to weight loss.

Do NOT blame the person for what is going on. As I have commented before, if you yell, scream, fight, or blame the person for their eating disorder or for making your life "hell," this will only reinforce how worthless they already feel and will trigger the eating disorder even more.

Do NOT make mealtimes a force-feeding frenzy. Eating disorders recovery is a long and slow process, and if you cram meal after meal down a person's throat, you will only make them feel even more guilty and upset which leads to purging. SLOW is the key word. Work on eating snacks calmly and then move up to meals if it helps (this can go for all eating disorders, not just anorexia). Mealtimes should be as comfortable and friendly as possible so that the person doesn't hate eating.

Do NOT harp on them about their eating behaviors, such as asking, "Are you going to puke that up?" or, "Have you eaten anything today? What'd you have?" This only makes the person feel more ashamed (remember, someone with an eating disorder honestly believes that they don't deserve to eat and they feel guilty every time they do).

Do NOT say things like, "I wish I could be anorexic, then I could be thin like you." So many people think eating disorders are glamorous and that they can be flipped on and off like a light switch. But, go and ask anyone suffering, and they'll tell you they wouldn't wish this on their greatest enemies, so don't treat this problem like a game instead of a deadly disorder.

Do NOT make comments like, "You have four months to stop purging, to gain weight, or else you are going to the hospital." You cannot put a time limit on recovery from an eating disorder and this will only panic the person with an eating disorder. Telling that to a person will only cause them to lie to you about their stages of recovery, not encourage them to "speed up" the recovery process.

What To Say To A Person With An Eating Disorder

DO listen and try to understand. Drawings, paintings, and poetry can help a great deal when those suffering can't express themselves through talking.

hey Jupiter
nothings been the same
So are you gay?
are you blue?
Thought we both could use a friend
to run to
and I thought you'd see with me
you wouldn't have to be something new-Tori Amos

DO remind and tell the person that they are not the only one fighting an eating disorder.

DO understand that the person with an eating disorder is not out for attention or pity. We didn't ask for this disorder to happen, nor did we want it to happen.

next: The Signs of an Eating Disorders Relapse
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APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2012, December 26). Rules of Eating Disorder Support, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/articles/rules-of-support-what-and-what-not-to-say

Last Updated: April 18, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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