I think my loved one has an eating disorder. How can I help?

Seeing someone engage in destructive eating patterns is scary, frustrating, and hard to understand. It is common to experience anger, fear, confusion and guilt. Individuals experiencing an eating disorder often do not recognize or admit that they are ill. As a result, they may strongly resist getting and staying in treatment. Ongoing emotional support is necessary for the individual, as recovery can be a long process and relapse is common.

Remember: eating disorders are not due to failure of will or behaviour; rather, they are real, treatable mental illnesses in which certain maladaptive patterns of eating take on a life of their own.

Before you do anything, take some time to think about your best course of action, get educated and seek support!

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The most important thing to remember when caring for your loved one is to practice self-care. It can be extremely draining and scary to see someone you love suffering from an eating disorder and it is easy to let the illness take over your life.

It may seem unfair to take breaks when someone you love is suffering, but it is crucial for you to be in your best health in order to provide the best care. Remember that you are doing the best that you can and take a moment each day to distress and reset yourself.

The following is an important list of Dos and Don’ts:

DO:

  • Learn about eating disorders so you are able to recognize the signs

  • Remember eating disorders are potentially fatal diseases and should be treated accordingly

  • Listen to your friend or loved one with understanding, respect and sensitivity

  • Tell the person you are concerned and that you care and would like to help
     
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help from a physician and/or therapist
     
  • Be available for support
     
  • Discuss feelings rather than food, weight or exercise
     
  • Empower the individual to make their own decisions and be accountable for their decisions

DON’T:

  • Don’t take any action alone- get help!
     
  • Don’t try to solve the problem for them- they need a qualified professional
     
  • Don’t blame them for doing something wrong or tell them they are acting silly
     
  • Don’t focus on weight or any particular eating habits
     
  • Don’t comment positively or negatively on appearance or weight
     
  • Don’t force the person to eat or tell them to “just eat”
     
  • Don’t reject or ignore them, they need you
     
  • Don’t give up! It takes time and they need your support!