Talking to a loved one about their Eating Disorder

Talking to a loved one about their Eating Disorder

It is painful to see someone you love suffering and understanding how to support them can be equally as challenging. Although it is normal to have feelings of helplessness, there are ways that can have a big impact with the approach you take in your support. 

  • Choose your time. Considering the most appropriate time can make a big difference. Set aside a time where you are confident you won’t be rushed or interrupted. Avoid certain points of the days such as around mealtimes or when you know someone may struggle the most. 
  • Plan what you will say. These conversations are likely to be difficult so rehearsing what you want to communicate is a helpful way to reduce your anxiety. Writing things down is a good idea.
  • Be factual. Emotions will be running high, but it is important to keep these in check as much as possible. It’s okay to express how you’re feeling but allow your loved one room for this too. Stay calm and raise your concerns based on what you have noticed about changes to their behaviour.
  • Avoid accusations. Express what you have observed “I noticed that you did not have lunch yesterday” or “I’m aware you’ve been running more lately” Rather than “You’re not eating” or “You’re always exercising”. These accusatory comments can lead to defensiveness. It is helpful to notice other changes that may have occurred not related to food or weight too such as noticing someone is not themselves, or gently recognising you are concerned about them. 
  • Stay clear of body comparisons. Focusing on their weight changes or appearance will not be helpful particularly if they cannot see or tolerate this themselves. Comments highlighting parts of their body or weight will usually increase agitation and defensiveness. Be sensitive to the words as seemingly innocent compliments can be negatively received such as “You look better today”.
  • Avoid dismissive comments. Telling someone who is struggling with an eating disorder to “just eat” or “just stop doing this” is very unhelpful. It will leave them feeling frustrated, defensive, misunderstood and possibly increase feelings of guilt. 
  • Be hopeful and reduce shame. Acknowledge there is no shame in having an eating disorder or mental health condition. Many people will suffer from a mental health condition in their lifetime and remind them there is support out there. It is good to remember recovery is possible.
  • Be patient and prepared for a negative response. Your loved one may be relieved that someone has noticed, however someone suffering with an eating disorder may be ambivalent about change or not ready to acknowledge something is wrong. You may be met with anger, but this is usually because they are scared so stay patient. Let them know you care and will be there to support them when they are ready.
  • Don’t despair. You may feel the conversation did not go well but making these first vital steps are essential for helping someone know they are not alone. They may need time to acknowledge the issue and prepare themselves for the road to recovery ahead. 
  • Encourage seeking professional support. Eating disorders are complex and sometimes require professional treatment. Early intervention has the best outcomes of recovery. Offer to attend a GP appointment with them or provide them with information about how to get help so they can do this in their own time.

At TEDS we are always happy to aid open communication and offer emotional and practical support to friends and families of those suffering from an eating disorder. We run a weekly carers’ group allowing you the space to seek reassurance and reflect with others about your own experience of supporting your loved one.

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