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Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders

Supporting a loved ones with an eating disorders can be challenging. This article provides practical advice, including having open conversations, expressing empathy, listening without judgment, educating oneself, and encouraging professional help for comprehensive support and recovery.

How To Help A Loved One

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect a person’s eating habits, thoughts, and emotions. They can affect anyone, no matter their age, sex or race. Supporting a loved one with an eating disorder is often challenging and emotionally draining and can be a long and difficult journey.

The different types of eating disorders include:
  • Anorexia nervosa: People with anorexia have a real fear of gaining weight. They may also have a distorted body image and see themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously thin. The signs of anorexia include severely restricting their food intake, a low body weight, obsessive behaviours around food and over-exercising.
  • Bulimia nervosa: This is a condition where a person goes through patterns of binge eating and then doing things to make up for it such as forcing themselves to vomit, excessive exercise, or taking laxatives. People with bulimia often feel a lack of control during their binging and experience feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust afterward. Signs include trips to the bathroom after meals, and weight that yoyos.
  • Binge eating disorder: This is similar to bulimia in that the person goes through periods of binge eating. But in the case of binge eating disorder, they do not do things that will prevent weight gain. They often feel distressed, guilty and embarrassed about their eating patterns. Signs of the disorder include a noticeable weight gain, eating rapidly, and eating alone.


How to support a loved one with an eating disorder

You need to have a conversation with your loved one about the signs you have witnessed. Make sure you approach them with sensitivity, empathy, and understanding.

  • Choose the right time and place: Find a calm, private setting where you can have an open and uninterrupted conversation without distractions or time constraints. Don’t discuss the matter in public or during mealtimes, as it may increase their feelings of discomfort or defensiveness.
  • Give specific examples: Share examples of incidents that have caused concerns, such as changes in their eating patterns, excessive exercise, or comments they’ve made about their body. This shows that you have been paying attention and are genuinely concerned about their well-being.
  • Express concern and empathy: Use “I” statements to convey your observations and feelings without blaming or criticising. For example, say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been skipping meals and seem unhappy. I’m worried about you, and I’m here to support you.”
  • Listen without judgment: Understand that eating disorders are complex mental health issues and not simply about willpower or vanity. Give your loved one space to express their thoughts and emotions. Avoid making assumptions or dismissing their experiences. Show that you are there to support them unconditionally.
  • Educate yourself: Show that you want to understand what they are going through by educating yourself about eating disorders. There are many books, as well as websites that will give you an insight into these illnesses.
  • Encourage professional help: suggest that your loved one considers seeking professional help from a healthcare provider or counsellor. There are a number of support groups that offer help for those with eating disorders including Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous.