5 Ways to Help Someone You Think is Anorexic

 

 

I’ve shared bits and pieces of my history with disordered eating here. It’s something that peaked my senior year in college, but has been woven in and out of my past more than just that. Even today, though I’m healthy and strong, I need to be very careful. Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? Isn’t an appropriate sacrifice for me. In fact, it’s not even really a sacrifice– it’s just dangerous.

 

I’ve issued a plea to get– or offer– help before. Eating disorders are REAL.

 

If you’ve not dealt with this issue yourself, however, you might wonder what you should do or say. I cannot speak for all people suffering from disordered eating, of course, but I’d like to offer up some suggestions of things I found super helpful when I was in the throes of it:

 

Don’t tell her to “just eat.”

 

I’ve said it before– anorexia isn’t really about the “eating”, at all. It’s a complex control issue that isn’t related to dieting in any way, shape, or form. Understand that anorexics may have moments when they really, truly desire to eat normally. She may even panic and try, desperately, to eat. And it might well make her get sick. It’s really not as simple as “just eating.”

 

Offer to help her find help.

 

Whereas saying “just eat” implies that she ought to be able to fix this on her own, offering to help find help shows you realize this might be out of her hands. Don’t start off with some intimidating intervention. Just find some numbers for her. Tell her you’ll be happy to make the call. Offer to go with her or drive her there. My college roommate sat outside the health center during my first counseling session and it meant the world to me to know she was there for me.

 

Be patient.

 

When I was in treatment and finally started making baby steps in feeding my body properly, it took me ages. I would spend hours in the school cafeteria, picking my way through a half a turkey sandwich and an apple. The guy I eventually married and I had only been dating for a short time, but he was instrumental in my recovery. He sat and chatted with me, never once mentioning how long I was taking. He focused on ME and not my food, and that enabled me to make progress.

 

Formulate some non-size-related compliments.

 

Other than the fear of giving up control, what I feared most was giving up the compliments. That’s shallow and sad, but true. At 20 and 21 years old, my size 3-tall body was something to be envied. Girls gushed about how I looked in clothing and, really, I could wear anything. I was essentially a clothes hanger, after all. Guys told me I was a “featherweight” and they would sweep me right off the ground– literally. And I liked it. It was critical that the focus shift from my body to other things– my eyes, my brain, my laugh. WHATEVER. Just not my body or weight. Even seeming compliments like “You look great/healthy/better/etc.” can make an anorexic fixate on her weight and become obsessed with controlling it again.

 

Don’t ignore it.

 

I know it’s hard. I know she might not appreciate your help. I know she might not seem like a very good friend/sister/neighbor/cousin right now. She still is. She’s just battling an illness right now. She probably doesn’t want to hear that, and she might resist help, especially at first. But don’t ignore it. Don’t ignore her. Stay involved. Be available. And, trust me, when she comes out on the other side, she’ll never forget you.

 

Do you have any tips or suggestions to add? Perhaps you’ve dealt with another form of disordered eating and could provide some insights in the comments. Let’s all help one another to learn how to reach out…

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3 comments to 5 Ways to Help Someone You Think is Anorexic

  • Thank you for these suggestions, and thank you for opening yourself up to us so we can learn how to help others with eating disorders.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for sharing your story and for the practical advice. I’ve never battled disordered eating or helped someone else through it, but I’ve had one or two friends over the years whom I suspected were fighting with disordered eating. Sadly, we lost touch and I didn’t reach out to help. In part, it was because I just didn’t know what to say. This is really helpful. Thanks again.

  • Lori

    I too struggled with this in the past. I also worked with someone 7 or 8 years ago, who I know was struggling with this. I was in college for a Psych degree at the time so she opened up to me about her problems. I offered as much support as I could, but really she brought all those issues back up for me and made me go back to that place. One big suggestion would be to help them find some Bible verses that are encouraging to help them meditate on. For awhile every bite I took I said “I can do all things through Christ”

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