Let’s Get Real About How to Help a Loved One With Their Eating Concern

As part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW), we’re blogging to increase awareness about eating disorders. Let’s Get Real!

Just because you may not struggle with an eating disorder does not mean you don’t know someone who does. It can be difficult to watch someone struggle with an eating or body image concern. Although you can’t force the person to change, you can be there to offer your support and encourage your loved one to seek treatment.

The first step to offering support is recognizing the warning signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. The second is to understand the myths versus facts about eating disorders. We’ve discussed these topics earlier this week on our blog. You can read these posts by returning to our blog’s homepage here.

So, you’ve noticed the warning signs and you understand more about the realities of eating disorders. What do you do next?

Speak up!

Don’t let your fear of being mistaken or saying the wrong thing keep you from voicing your concern. People who struggle with eating disorders can be afraid to ask for help or feel they don’t deserve it. By speaking up, you can start the conversation that may lead to their treatment.

Here are a five tips for how to intervene:

Consider your approach. Pick a time and place to chat with the person that is free from distractions so that you both can speak freely and openly. It’s important to remain calm during the discussion, so gauge your emotions before you broach the subject.

Explain your concerns. Be specific. Explain the situations and behaviors you’ve noticed that worry you. Emphasize that you care and want to help. Don’t criticize or pretend you have all the answers. Avoid “you” statements such as “you shouldn’t be doing this to yourself” or “you need to give these excessive diets a rest.” Focus on how their behaviors make you feel using “I” statements such as “I’m worried to see your body change like this” or “It scares me when I hear you talk about how horrible you think you look.”

Don’t give ultimatums or simple solutions. You can’t force the person to get treatment. Giving ultimatums will only add pressure and increase the chances your loved one will continue to isolate. Likewise, avoid oversimplifying next steps like saying “you just need to recognize your beautiful the way you are.” Eating disorders are not a choice, so the solutions are never simple.

Be prepared for your loved one’s response. Even if you take a respectful, calm approach, the conversation may feel threatening to your loved one. If this happens, try not to take it personally. If your concerns are rejected, don’t give up, but rather remain lovingly persistent and patient. It may take time for your loved one to open up to you. Reiterate that you’re there for whatever is needed.

Encourage professional help. Beyond offering support, the most important thing you can do is encourage your loved one to seek treatment. Eating disorders are hard on the person’s body, mind and spirit; the longer the concern is left untreated and undiagnosed, the harder it will be to overcome, so encourage seeking help as soon as possible. To learn more about the treatment services provided at Nebraska Medicine – University Health center, visit our website.

Don’t go it alone. If you need a consultation with a professional before starting this conversation, call us at 402.472.5000.

To explore educational videos, articles and resources for body image concerns, visit https://health.unl.edu/caps/bodyimage.




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