This week, from February 23 to March 1, is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “I Had No Idea.” This theme is resonant on so many levels; many people don’t know much about eating disorders. They think that people with eating disorders either completely starve themselves or binge and purge, and rarely do they understand the psychological causes of eating disorders. People often think that curing an eating disorder is as simple as telling someone to start eating or stop purging.
Rarely is it that simple. Eating disorders have deep psychological roots and can be incredibly difficult to treat. It’s a process to treatment, not a cure.
People also have no idea how much eating disorders actually ruin lives. Of course, they ruin the bodies and minds of those who suffer from them, but also their families and relationships, as well. Treatment options are often extremely expensive and so many suffer without ever being able to receive the treatment they need. Also, eating disorders can be genetic, meaning if your parents suffered from disordered eating, you are more likely to, as well.
30 million people suffer from eating disorders, so chances are you know someone battling this terrible illness. If you do, it’s important that you find the right way to talk to them. Here are some tips for how to talk to someone about an eating disorder.
1. Find the Right Time
Finding the right time to talk to someone you fear has an eating disorder can be tricky. You don’t want to invite them out to a meal, which will add more stress to the situation for your friend, since they will be focused on the food rather than the conversation. If you are away at school, you also don’t want to talk to your friend right before a term ends and you both leave for home. You’ll want to be able to continue to talk to your friend and starting a conversation you can’t finish isn’t helpful. Also, don’t start the conversation in the middle of an argument. Remain calm and choose an activity to center it around that won’t stress either of you out.
2. Don’t Focus on Meals
If your friend has already been diagnosed with an eating disorder, try not to center all of your activities around meals. Meal time can be extremely stressful for someone with an eating disorder. Get creative and find other things you and your friend can do together besides eat. Go rollerskating, take a walk, go shopping or enjoy a cup of tea.
3. Don’t Monitor
You may be tempted to monitor your friend’s eating, but don’t. If your friend feels you are hovering or being too controlling, he or she might end up feeling more isolated than before. Remember, you cannot cure your friend’s eating disorder by counting his or her calories or monitoring their trips to the bathroom. Let the professionals do their jobs, and know that your job is just to offer support to your friend.
4. Be Patient
Eating disorders cannot be cured overnight. In fact, treating them can be a lifelong process. Having an eating disorder is not a lifestyle choice; rather, it is a deep psychological problem that requires years and years of treatment. You might also notice things getting worse before they get better. Just be patient and allow your friend to tell you what he or she needs from you. Don’t expect miracles, and rejoice in small victories.
5. Inform Someone
If you feel like someone’s eating disorder is getting out of hand, or if you are worried and your friend refuses to seek professional help, never be afraid to inform someone of your concerns. Talk to your friend’s parents or partner — someone who can help them if you can’t. If you are in school, inform a counselor or nurse. They can often help you figure out what your next steps should be.
Photo Credit: Mike Cicchetti