It can be very difficult to support someone with an eating disorder, not only because it can be very upsetting to see someone you love unwell and distressed but also because it is the nature of these illnesses to push people away and interpret things wrongly. I’m writing this post from personal experience of what helps me and what doesn’t.
When most people have been unwell it can be a compliment to tell them that they look well but with eating disorders this can be one of the most triggering things that people can say even though they mean well. My eating disorder interprets this as fat or healthy and therefore I think I don’t need to work on recovery because I am fine. Sometimes I have been a healthy weight but my eating disorder has been at it’s worst and people would tell me I looked well and it would upset me because I wasn’t well at all. I think when it comes to supporting someone with an eating disorder it is best not to comment on appearance at all. Commenting on both weight loss and weight gain will feed the eating disorder. It is much better for the person if you compliment them on their personality, or smile, or outfit.
Don’t push the person you are with to eat when they are spending time with you. If they want to eat then that’s great but by pushing someone or saying things like “You have to have something to eat when we meet” it will push the person away and leave them more isolated. If someone tried to make me eat then I usually avoided meeting up with them.
Be careful that you don’t become friends with the eating disorder. What I mean by this is don’t spend the entire time talking about the eating disorder and things that the person has gone through with their illness. Talk about the person, their achievements and talents, funny memories, the future. Allow the person to feel like they are more than their illness and remind them of the reasons to get better.
Never ask the person you are supporting for diet advice. You may be tempted but it will feed the eating disorder more than you could possibly imagine and whether or not the person lets on, you will have damaged the relationship and trust between you two. It can make it so much harder to recover when you know the people around you are losing weight, it’s even worse when you know they are using you to lose that weight.
Try not to comment on what the person is eating, even comments such as “That looks nice” and “Whoa that’s yellow” can trigger and upset the person and lead the person to only feel safe eating alone. Try to keep all thoughts around food at meal times in your head.
Don’t be offended or take it personally if the person you are supporting seems a bit off with you or doesn’t want to hang out. It is exhausting to suffer from an eating disorder and can severely affect a person both mentally and physically. Let your friend know that you are always there for them and allow them to have their space to rest and be quiet if need be.
Don’t forget to look after yourself, self soothe with a bubbly bath, scented candles, chocolate or your favourite TV programme….whatever makes you happy. Make sure you take time to relax and unwind so that you can look after your own health.
Here’s today’s sock it to eating disorder silly socks photo:
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