From the outside looking in you can't understand it. From the inside peering out you can't explain it. Eating disorders, or any addiction for that matter, can engulf us like a dark cloud- blurring our judgements and values. Last week, February 22nd marked the first day of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Although this post isn’t going to be read during NEDA week (that’s just how the cookie crumbles), its still a very important topic near and dear to my heart.
I wanted to shed light on how to speak with someone who you believe may have an eating disorder as well as recognize that there are diverse experiences of people personally affected by dis-ordered eating. Too often, signs and symptoms are unnoticed and overlooked as trivial behaviors when in fact many of these are early warning signs of eating disorders.
So, how do you talk with someone who you believe may have an eating disorder?
Be careful to avoid critical or accusatory statements, as this will only make your friend or family member defensive. Instead, focus on the specific behaviors that worry you.
1. Be prepared: The most important thing you can do when approaching someone about an eating disorder is to be prepared and educate yourself as much as possible about eating disorders. The person you care about may be experiencing high levels of anxiety, shame, embarrassment, guilt or denial or may not recognize that they have an eating problem.
2. Choose a caring environment: Any approach needs to be carried out in a caring manner, in an environment that can support open and calm conversation. Approach the person in an environment where you believe they feel most comfortable and safe, such as at home.
3. Use the right language: If you are approaching someone with an eating disorder, you need to take into account their fear of disclosing their behaviors or feelings. Let them know that you care about them and that you want to help them face the problem and support them through every stage of the healing process.
• use “I” statements.
• don’t rush them through the conversation, they may not be ready to talk either, but letting them know you are there for them is key
• avoid putting focus on food, or weight… instead try talking about how the person is feeling
4. Know the difference between facts and myths: knowing the facts will help you reason with your friend about any inaccurate ideas that may be fueling their disordered eating patterns.
5. Remain supportive: throughout the conversation and beyond, communicate care, concern and a desire to talk about the problem. Be prepared that they may not be ready to talk about it just yet. But, let them know you are there for them no matter what.
For more helpful resources please visit:
www.edap.org - National Eating Disorders Association
National Eating Disorders Association's information and referral line (1-800-931-2237)
www.bulimia.com - Website for guide books, a resource for information about eating disorders
www.budining.com - Click on the "eating well" section for information about eating healthy and nutrition