How To Help A Friend With An Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that affect millions of Australians. These disorders can cause severe physical and emotional distress and can lead to serious health complications. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from an eating disorder face stigma, shame, and isolation which can exacerbate their condition. If you suspect that a friend or loved one has an eating disorder, you may be wondering how you can help.

Recognizing the Signs of Eating Disorders

The first step in helping a friend with an eating disorder is recognizing the signs. It is important to remember that eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Some common signs of an eating disorder include:

  • Obsessive thoughts about food and weight
  • Avoidance of social situations, especially those involving food
  • Changes in weight or sudden weight loss
  • Extreme calorie restriction or overeating
  • Preoccupation with body image, physical appearance, or exercise
  • Avoiding meals, making excuses to skip meals, or eating alone
  • Purging, using laxatives or diet pills to control weight
  • Excessive exercise or compulsive physical activity
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as irritability or depression

If you notice any of these signs in a friend or loved one, it is important to approach the conversation with empathy, compassion, and understanding. Eating disorders are often associated with feelings of shame and guilt, and it is therefore important to create a safe and non-judgmental environment.

Initiating the Conversation

The thought of approaching a friend or loved one about their eating disorder can be daunting, but it is important to take action. It is crucial to remember that your loved one is likely struggling and may need support to seek help. A few tips for initiating the conversation include:

  • Choose a quiet and private place to talk
  • Choose a time when your friend is not hungry or tired
  • Express your concern in a compassionate and non-judgmental way
  • Listen and validate their feelings
  • Avoid giving unsolicited advice or making promises you cannot keep
  • Encourage them to seek professional help and offer your support

It is important to remember that eating disorders are complex and often require professional treatment. Therefore, it is important to encourage your friend to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.

Supporting Your Friend Through Recovery

Recovery from an eating disorder can be a long and difficult journey. Therefore, it is important to support your friend throughout their recovery. A few ways to support your friend include:

  • Encourage your friend to attend therapy and support groups
  • Be patient and understanding, and avoid making judgments about their progress
  • Provide support without enabling eating disorder behaviors
  • Help your friend find healthy distractions or hobbies to occupy their mind and avoid triggering situations
  • Remind your friend that their worth is not determined by their weight or physical appearance
  • Attend appointments with your friend if they ask for your support

It is also important to take care of yourself while supporting your friend. Supporting a loved one with an eating disorder can be emotionally taxing, and it is important to practice self-care and seek support from a mental health professional if needed.

Getting Professional Help

If you suspect that your friend or loved one has an eating disorder, it is crucial to encourage them to seek professional help. Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can lead to severe physical and emotional distress, and they require treatment from a qualified healthcare professional.

A few resources for seeking professional help include:

  • The Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline (1800 33 4673)
  • Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery Service (EDTRS)
  • BodyMatters Australasia

If your friend is in immediate danger or experiencing a medical emergency, it is important to seek emergency support by calling 000 or taking your friend to the nearest emergency department.

Final Thoughts

Supporting a friend with an eating disorder can be challenging, but it is important to remember that recovery is possible with the right help and support. Encourage your friend to seek professional help, be patient and understanding, and practice self-care. Remember that eating disorders are complex and often require professional treatment, but with the right support, your friend can achieve lasting recovery.

FAQs

FAQs: How To Help A Friend With An Eating Disorder

Q: What should I do if I suspect my friend has an eating disorder?

A: It is important to approach your friend in a caring and non-judgmental way. Express your concerns and let them know that you are there to support them. Encourage them to seek professional help, and offer to assist them in finding a therapist or treatment facility.

Q: How can I support my friend in their recovery?

A: Be a good listener and offer emotional support. Avoid making comments about their weight or appearance. Encourage your friend to participate in healthy activities and to seek professional support. Help them develop coping strategies and offer to participate in activities that promote self-care, such as meditation or exercise.

Q: What should I avoid saying or doing when trying to help a friend with an eating disorder?

A: Never make comments about your friend’s weight, body shape, or eating habits. Avoid trying to fix the problem yourself or pushing your friend towards a particular solution. Don’t minimize their struggles or dismiss their concerns. Encourage them to seek professional help instead of providing unsolicited advice.


References

1. Ro, O., Martinsen, M., Hoffart, A., & Rosenvinge, J. H. (2014). What mediates improvement in eating disorder-related symptoms among outpatients receiving ‘Focused Guided Imagery and Music’(FGIM)?: Exploring plausible processes of therapeutic change. Behavioral and cognitive psychotherapy, 42(3), 327-340. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/S1352465813000454

2. Blake, R. M., Kiernan, M., & Smith, J. (2019). The effectiveness of a peer support programme for parents of individuals with eating disorders. Journal of eating disorders, 7(1), 1-12. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-019-0257-2

3. Brown, T. A., Forney, K. J., Keel, P. K., & Crow, S. J. (2019). The impact of social support on eating disorder symptoms and associated distress: A review. Journal of eating disorders, 7(1), 1-13. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-018-0229-6