It is estimated that approximately 9% of the entire U.S. population (about 30 million people) will develop an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. Eating disorders are a serious mental health condition with the second-highest mortality rate of all mental health diagnoses after opioid addiction.
Eating disorders are severe, and though these statistics may feel jarring, it is essential to remember that they are treatable and recovery is possible.
How can you support your loved one? Here are some important considerations to keep in mind if your loved one has an eating disorder.
Do’s When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder
Learn the Signs
Knowledge is power. Eating disorder treatment outcomes improve with early detection. You may suspect that your loved one is showing signs of disordered eating, but not be entirely sure.
It is helpful to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and the many different ways these disorders can manifest. Some of the most common signs include:
secrecy around eating.
eating food in very small or large amounts.
wearing baggy clothing, even in very warm weather.
continued complaints about body shape, size, or weight.
suspicions of vomiting or laxative use.
food disappearing without explanation.
The more you know about thesel signs and patterns, the more information you have to support your loved one in seeking the treatment they need.
Listen to Understand
If you notice sudden, drastic weight loss or other concerning symptoms, it is natural to want to jump to action to help your loved one. But before you take that leap, take the time to listen.
Provide your loved one a safe place to feel supported and cared for. Eating disorders can make a person feel significant guilt and shame, leading to increasing secrecy or isolation. You can help your loved one by listening without judgment or immediately trying to solve things for them. Just being there is supportive to their recovery.
Encourage Them to Get Help
If your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, they likely need treatment and professional support. Eating disorders are dangerous, both physically and mentally.
Encourage, not force, your loved one to seek support without judgment. Treatment outcomes improve when the individual is willing to start and stick with their full treatment program.
Talk About Other Things
Help your loved one stay connected to the things they love, and that brings you together. Remind them that recovery is possible and they have so much to enjoy. Try to focus on other activities that help them feel happy or inspired.
For example, go see a movie together or spend time in nature. Remember to support your loved one by spending time with them that isn’t entirely focused on their eating disorder.
Don’ts When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder
Shame Them Into Eating
As mentioned, eating disorders can bring up overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame. Though you may be frustrated with your loved one, it is not helpful to try and shame them into eating.
Your loved one may feel vulnerable, scared, ashamed, or overwhelmed by eating. Keep those emotions in mind, and try to be patient with them.
Discuss Weight or Appearance
Do not comment on the weight or appearance of someone who may be struggling with an eating disorder. Eating disorders can present with negative self-image and hyper-awareness of weight and appearance.
These types of comments about the individual or someone else around the individual who is struggling can be triggering. Remember that someone does not necessarily need to be underweight to have an eating disorder.
According to a 2011 meta-analysis of Eating Disorder research, only 6% of those formally diagnosed with an eating disorder will be considered medically underweight. Despite preconceived ideas from TV or movies, eating disorders do not have a particular look-be mindful of your words about weight and appearance regardless of the audience!
Eating disorders are insidious, and relapse may be a part of your loved one’s recovery. With that in mind, do not give up hope.
Eating disorders are treatable, and long-term recovery is possible. It may take a few different programs, therapists, or dieticians to find the right fit. Through it all, your care, love, and support are invaluable in the recovery of your loved one. Don’t give up!
Eating disorders can feel confusing, and the statistics around them may feel scary. However, education and awareness are two of your most powerful tools in supporting your loved one. By understanding the signs of eating disorders, you will be more equipped to support them in seeking treatment sooner and with a higher chance of long-term recovery.
Treatment is available, and recovery is possible. A team approach to treatment is most effective, and you can be a part of that team by providing support. Your engagement in your loved one’s treatment can make all the difference.
At The Mental Health House, we offer support for individuals and their loved ones recovering from eating disorders. Contact us today to learn more.