If you suspect that a friend or loved one suffers from an eating disorder, you may be wondering how you can best support them through such a difficult process. The first thing you should be aware of is that the treatment of an eating disorder should involve trained medical professionals including therapists with subspecialties in the problem area. The second thing you should know is that a strong support network can be immensely helpful for someone who is undergoing treatment for this type of disorder. If you want to help someone that is afflicted with an eating disorder, here are a few starting points.
Myths about Eating Disorders
Learning about some common myths regarding eating disorders can help you better support your friend or loved one. Although there is a lot of inaccurate information about eating disorders, here are a few of the more widespread concepts:
Eating Disorders Are Rare – These conditions are more common than people might think. Anorexia alone is estimated to occur in nearly 15 percent of U.S. females in their teens and twenties.
You Can Tell if Someone Has an Eating Disorder by Looking at Them – Although a person’s physique can indicate a food-related disorder, this is not always the case. People with eating disorders can hide their body with the clothing they wear, and they can also be at their ideal weight or even overweight.
Eating Disorders Are Not a Real Illness – Eating disorders are categorized as a mental illness in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. They can also accompany other mental disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, and depression.
Only Women Have Eating Disorders – Eating disorders are more common among females, but they also occur in males.
Recovering from an Eating Disorder is Uncommon – The recovery process that takes place with an eating disorder is usually a long-term one and can take months or years. However, many people are able to overcome this illness with the right medical help.
It’s a white girl disease– Studies show that the percentage of minorities with eating disorders is very similar to that of white women.
Symptoms of an Eating Disorder
Even though many people with an eating disorder will attempt to conceal it, there are still signs that can help you determine if they need help.
Fear or obsession with body weight
Big changes in weight
Depression and/or anxiety
Eating very little or rejecting food completely
Refusing to eat in front of others
Irregular menstrual cycle
Fixation on exercise
Regularly going to the bathroom after eating
Thinning hair on head and increase in body hair
Discoloration of teeth and acid reflux
Frequently feeling cold and/or dizzy
Ways That You Can Help
Accept – This is an illness, and it requires professional help. Depending on your relationship to the person, you can either encourage them to seek professional treatment or find a professional or treatment center for them.
Don’t Judge -When you talk to the person about their eating disorder, you should do so in a non-judgmental way and make suggestions instead of making demands.
Support – You can show this person that you are there for them by listening and encouraging them during their recovery process.
Inform – Helping someone with an eating disorder gain access to relevant information can give them the motivation to look into medical treatment.
Don’t Ignore – It may be difficult to speak with someone about an eating disorder, but if you suspect that they have one, it is not a good idea to ignore it. If the person does not get help for their illness, it is likely that it will continue and possibly get worse.
The people in our lives can help us through the most difficult times, and someone that is suffering with an eating disorder needs the support of their family and friends. Once the person accepts professional help and begins a treatment plan, it can take several months, or even years, to fully recover from their disorder. Although it can be a long and difficult process, your continued support can make a huge difference in their healing success.
About the Author:
Deanna James is the Director of Media Relations at Monarch Cove Treatment Center. She loves to see patients overcome their individual eating disorders with the help of the professional, caring staff at Monarch Cove.