Have you noticed that a loved one has difficulty with eating, an obsession with weight, exercise and/or body image? If you think this obsession is causing a lot of physical and/ or emotional pain, you may be able to help that person get treatment. Age, relationship, gender of your loved one, all affect which suggestions will be most helpful. The following fundamental suggestions are extremely important to consider:

  1. REMAIN CALM. If you feel comfortable approaching your friend or loved one, do so when you are both calm and not overly emotional, upset and reacting to a very recent event. Give them your full attention, this is the first step, be prepared and go for it!
  2. DO NOT DIAGNOSE. Review some basic information about eating disorders and have some knowledge, however, do not give a diagnosis. Let your loved one know you have concerns based on what you understand. Do not assume to know why this is happening, most likely your loved one is also uncertain.
  3. TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL. Offer to help your loved one make an appointment to see their medical doctor or a psychiatrist, ideally a specialist. An individual care provider can recommend the next step in treatment. There are many levels of treatment available, from inpatient to individual outpatient sessions. Avoid speculating what treatment they will need, it may cause undo anxiety, talk to a professional first.
  4. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Not everyone is ready to recover. Present your concerns and unless the person is in immediate danger, give them some time, but don’t give up. Some find it difficult to accept help or are testing your sincerity, avoid taking their resistance personally.
  5. FIND ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS FOR SUPPORT. If a person is not ready to see a doctor or other professional, but is open to help, suggest talking to someone through a support hotline or attending a support group for eating disorders. Many support groups include a number and a person you can talk to in advance to see if the group is appropriate for their needs. Suggest looking at a recovery website or autobiographies about recovery.
  6. BE RESPECTFUL AND NOT CONTROLLING. Often eating disorders are rooted in their need for control. Controlling food and weight may feel like the only thing within their power. If you are perceived as controlling you will become more of a threat than a support.
  7. TALK TO AN ADULT. If you are young, still living at home, and have concerns that a friend or sibling may have an eating disorder, talk to a trusted adult. A parent, teacher/school nurse, relative or coach. Share your concerns with someone, eating disorders can be fatal or cause irreversible damage. The sooner a person gets help the better chance they have to recover and avoid long term consequences. Of course, you may be able to talk to your friend first...read on to #8.
  8. WHEN TO STEP IN. If your loved one is quite young, the health risks can be significant and it is your responsibility to find treatment. Eating disordered thinking is very manipulative and convincing...be strong, resist tears, tantrums and promises to stop behaviors or gain weight. Follow the recommendations of doctors for the level of treatment necessary. There is no “just getting over” an eating disorder. It is not about food and weight, a professional can help your loved one separate the food from the issues, which will allow the individual and the family to recover.
  9. NO BRIBES OR REWARDS. Be supportive without manipulating a loved one. Promising a reward for eating or not using behaviors is not a solution. Bargains and rewards may work temporarily, however, this does not address the cause. It also adds an element of control, which an individual will eventually resent.
  10. LISTEN. Just listen, even if, especially if, what your loved one is saying doesn’t make any sense. Avoid saying you understand. Avoid interrupting. The truth is that you probably don’t understand and you risk invalidating your loved one.

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