Helping someone who has anorexia can feel overwhelming. There are many do’s and don’ts with approaching a friend about their eating disorder. While there are numerous services available to help people with eating disorders, there are also things that you can do to support someone.
How to Recognize Anorexia
There are several signs that indicate someone may be struggling with anorexia or other eating disorders. The presence of a couple of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean that anorexia is present, but it does represent a red flag to pay closer attention to your loved one’s habits. Some of the core characteristics you may notice about your friend and examples are listed below.
Anorexia Warning Signs
If someone you know has anorexia, they may look, feel and act differently. Watch for these signs and symptoms of anorexia.
They may have weight or body image concerns:
- Expresses concern about body shape, or desire to lose weight
- Talks about dieting or vigorously follows a diet
- Exercises more than necessary, though do not increase calorie intake
- They may become upset when they cannot exercise
They begin controlling food or meal preparation:
- Becomes unusually interested in preparing meals, but might not actually be eating
- Makes meals for themselves rather than eating what the family is eating
- Becomes stressed when unable to control a situation related to food, such as a change in dinner plans
They behave oddly during and after meals:
- Creates reasons to frequently visit the bathroom after a meal
- Refuses to eat in the presence of others
- Engages in peculiar food rituals, like cutting food into tiny pieces or eating foods in a certain order
Their mood and energy changes:
- Appears more anxious, depressed, irritable or tired than normal
- Seems to have less energy and becomes less interested in the activities they once loved
- They may appear overly energized as they begin taking on all sorts of responsibilities and activities to distract their mind from eating
How to Talk to Your Friend About Treatment
Support from friends and family is often key to encouraging loved ones with anorexia to seek help. They may be unaware that there is a problem, ashamed to seek help or hesitant about forfeiting their comfortable behaviors. Many people with anorexia find it difficult to seek help. Loved ones can play important roles in identifying anorexia symptoms and encouraging a person to seek help.
Do’s and Dont’s for Talking to a Friend With Anorexia
Here are a few basic considerations to keep in mind when you talk to your friend about anorexia treatment.
Do’s (Supportive behaviors):
- Use mental health first aid tactics to help calm them in a crisis and talk to them about getting help.
- Show compassion and listen non-judgmentally. People with eating disorders are possibly experiencing intense levels of emotional pain. Letting them know you care about them and want to help is the most effective way of showing your support.
- Encourage them to seek professional anorexia treatment. This process may seem embarrassing or difficult for them. Reassure them that professional help is the most effective way to treat anorexia.
- Offer to help them find the right kind of support and treatment, and maybe even accompany them to their first appointment.
- Remind them that eating disorders can be treated successfully.
- Be patient. People with eating disorders often take a while to change their behaviors. If there is a setback or they become discouraged, encourage them to try again and to keep aiming for recovery.
Don’t s (Behaviors to avoid):
- Don’t comment on the person’s weight or appearance at all, even if you are telling them they look very skinny. A person with an eating disorder already has low self-esteem, so mentioning their appearance could worsen the situation.
- Don’t get frustrated by the person’s eating habits or try to force them to eat. Your anger may cause the person to avoid your help.
- Don’t try to guilt-trip the person by telling them how their eating disorder affects other people. A person with an eating disorder is probably feeling guilty already.
If you think your loved one is living with anorexia, The Recovery Village can help. Eating disorders are not treated overnight and can be challenging to face alone. Seeing professional treatment can help the patient and their loved ones work through the issues together. People who have drug or alcohol use disorders and co-occurring eating disorders can receive comprehensive treatment from one of our facilities located across the country. To learn more, call The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative.
Rodebaugh, Thomas L. et al. “Self and friend’s differing views of social anxiety disorder’s effects on friendships.” Journal of abnormal psychology vol. 123,4 (2014): 715-24.