When a family member, friend, spouse, or other loved one starts showing signs of an eating disorder, wanting to help is a natural and expected response. However, navigating the delicate balance of helpful and harmful can be challenging as an outsider looking in on someone else’s struggles.
That said, finding reliable information and familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms of eating disorders is an excellent first step. In this guide, we discuss eating disorders as a whole, disordered eating behaviors, and how to initiate the all-important conversation with your loved ones.
Whether it’s your friend, spouse, parent, or child you’re worried about, developing an understanding of different kinds of eating disorders is essential. After all, it’s difficult to provide the right kind of support when you don’t understand the basics of the disorder itself.
This section discusses some basic descriptions of the most common kinds of eating disorders: binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia is an eating disorder generally defined by overly restrictive eating habits and an unhealthy preoccupation with one’s weight and body shape. People suffering from anorexia may experience an overwhelming fear of weight gain and have intrusive thoughts about thinness. Generally speaking, a person with this eating disorder may have low-self esteem and increased feelings of self-loathing.
Do note that dangerously low body weight is not a requirement for an eating disorder.
An individual with bulimia may binge on large amounts of food over a short time, only to purge the “excess calories” away through abusing diet pills, diuretics, laxatives, enemas, or inducing vomiting. However, people with this specific eating disorder may also exhibit similar restrictive behaviors found in folks with anorexia nervosa.
This restrictive behavior usually contributes to the “purging” part of their deadly food-related cycle, and can manifest as excessive exercise, prolonged fasting, or extreme dieting.
People with binge eating disorder usually consume thousands of calories within one sitting, which usually spans over one or two hours. Unlike clinically insignificant overeating, individuals with this eating disorder are prone to self-consciousness and guilt – but will continue to eat due to an uncontrollable desire.
People with binge eating disorder aren’t limited to bingeing on junk food or “unhealthy” options and will often eat in secret or diet to no lasting effect.
The concept of what’s “attractive” is usually dictated by one’s culture, and most of the time, this means fitting a thin ideal. While it’s normal to be concerned about your appearance, obsessive interest can result in an eating disorder or other food-related problems. But what constitutes “disordered” behavior, and how does it differ from non-problematic eating habits?
Here are some of the main warning signs and symptoms you should look out for:
Millions of men and women in the United States have an eating disorder, and many people don’t seek treatment. This is usually due to inaccessible resources, fear of being stigmatized, a lack of support from family and friends, or simply not knowing which treatment options are available to them. Given this, how can you help a person you feel may struggle with an eating disorder?
The unfortunate answer is that there isn’t one do-it-all solution to recovering from bulimia – but there are a few things that you can keep in mind when reaching out to support a friend or someone you care about.
One of the best ways to support someone you love is to educate yourself about the things that ail them. We recommend checking out both local and online resources (like this article), to get a handle on the unique challenges your friend or family member will have to face. Learning more about eating disorders can clue you in on how to support someone you love, whether it’s simply supporting them through significant life changes or lending an ear when they need to process their feelings about a problem.
One of the best ways to help an individual with bulimia is to support them and voice your concerns in a non-aggressive manner without pointing fingers – and this is especially true if you’re close to them. However, a sensitive topic like potential eating disorders should be addressed carefully, and that means you’re going to have to find the right time to bring it up.
That’s why we recommend finding a common time with your loved one when no distractions are present – no work to be done, no third parties listening in, and no blame-placing or judgment. Doing this can help tremendously, mainly because the person in question may not immediately see why they need help or refuse to seek treatment.
If the person you’re concerned about isn’t open to getting professional help or seeking treatment just yet, that’s okay. Accepting that we may have a serious problem is difficult for most folks, and all you can do is lend them a supportive ear while also being sensitive to their feelings about bulimia.
That means putting aside judgments and trying to see the situation from their perspective – wouldn’t an unconditionally supportive ear or shoulder to cry on make things much easier for you?
We recommend giving your friend or family member enough time and space to work through their feelings while also ensuring that they know you’re there for them, no matter how long it takes.
Navigating the challenges of an eating disorder like bulimia is exceedingly tricky. There are physical problems caused by purging behaviors and emotional issues that need to be worked out. As a professional without any specialized healthcare training, all you can do is support your friend or family member. However, the best course of action is always to get professional help.
If you or someone else in your life shows signs of an eating disorder, don’t wait until it’s too late. Send us a message so we can work out a suitable treatment plan for you.