5 ways you can help a friend that’s struggling with an eating disorder
Watching a friend struggling with food can be so hard. My family and friends used to struggle when I wasn’t eating.
They felt completely helpless and frustrated that I wasn’t able to begin eating just at a snap of their fingers. Anorexia did nasty things to me. It made me angry a lot of the time, and I would end up shouting at my parents. One evening I got back late having avoided dinner deliberately and my Dad asked if I had eaten. He knew I hadn’t and said I had to have something… so I shuffled two plain dry pieces of bread in to my mouth. Through the dry taste I shouted at my Dad. I was furious. He stood with tears whirling in his eyes. Part of me really felt for my Dad but the part of me, the anorexic part couldn’t care less…
If you are worried about a friend or a family member and concerned that they might have an eating disorder these are my 5 ways that might just help (I am no expert but some of this would have helped me).
1. Be direct but patient & let them know you are there when they are ready
Hard yes! But sometimes this is the best way to be. Over the last year since sharing my story of anorexia I have met so many people who ask what to do… do they mention the weight loss, the lack of eating… it is hard to know but by saying something it could save someone’s life. Anorexia is a serious mental illness and it can kill people. Just this year I know two people who have died from this nasty illness. We need to be careful being direct and think about how we phrase things but it can really help.
In March 2016 I relapsed and people close to me realised I had lost weight. They questioned me on it and it helped that they had noticed. It made me realise people did care. And it helped me realise that having real friends around me was more important than being a so called friend with anorexia.
But whatever you do, don’t be confrontational about it.
If they aren’t feeling up for talking about it when you ask them or they push away your comments, please do be patient and let them know you are there when they are ready
We aren’t asking you to know everything about our eating disorder and recovery (and we probably don’t want you to) but please be there to listen to us. We might need you to just hear us say we feel fat, hear us say we are struggling and hear us say we need your help.
I know that some days we don’t want you to talk but by having you there when we need it will help so so much.
3. Hold their hand through their recovery
This is what we need the most. We need you to be there, holding our hand, being patient, helping with portion size, and routing for us. My Mum’s favourite saying is “gird your loins” – and when I am having a bad day I guarantee I will get a text saying this but it means I know she is backing me. Having people who are holding our hand and backing us through this will help.
4. Organise activities away from food
When I was really unwell I used to miss out on so much because I didn’t want to go to meals out. If I am going through a rough patch, I do still struggle at mealtimes. I struggle to switch off and can’t really enjoy the meal. Please do organise activities away from food and don’t make a big deal about it. For me walks, shopping, coffees all do the trick! Or if you do go for a restaurant send a selection beforehand so we can choose what works for us.
A few really simple changes can do us the world of good and make our lives much easier and manageable.
5. Avoid saying things like “you look well” and “you look better”
“You look well” means to someone with an eating disorder “YOU LOOK FAT” – please please please think before you speak. I know you probably didn’t mean any harm with this comment but for some people it can leave them questioning themselves.
For me I have people that I trust that I can ask directly about my weight and I (try) not to listen to others who might comment it.
And above all never ever say “you look better” – eating disorders aren’t about weight and you can’t judge if someone is well dependent on their weight. When I was in hospital my weight seemed to go up so quickly and my mind took much longer to catch up. Recovering from an eating disorder can take a variety of times and just because we may be having a meal one day and looking happy doesn’t mean we are 100% cured.
I hope that this helps you feel a little bit more equipped to help your friends or family who may be struggling.
If we aren’t ready to open up and accept we have a problem, please do just be patient with us. Give us time and make us feel loved. I know it can feel really disheartening when you are doing these things and nothing seems to be changing but please stick with us.
Hold our hand through it and we will get there.