Hello! Whether you’re a frequent reader or first timer, I’m delighted you’re here. Not because I want more views or follows, but because one more person learning to see the invisible disorder may save someone’s life.
Disclaimer: The below suggestions are NOT intended to take the place of professional advice or research. My intentions are to provide insight from my experience and inspire others.
When you are trying to approach someone with an eating disorder, be mindful that they are going to be defensive. They want to go unnoticed and they will cringe, run, and hide at the mention of eating disorder, diet, anorexia, bulimia, binging, purging etc. In short, you are going to have to help them with out bringing it up or else they will feel scared, ashamed and attacked.
What to look for
The reason it’s invisible is because most people are looking for the old medical signs used to diagnose eating disorders such as weight-loss, excessive exercise, purging, slowed heart, or hair falling out. It’s overlooked because this world is overcome by Diet Culture, and harmful organizations like Weight Watcher’s who disguise diet as a “lifestyle choice.” Everywhere I look I see people with disordered eating, following “health rules” that are leading them closer and closer to an eating disorder.
Just a few signs:
– Change in likes and dislikes of particular foods.
– Avoiding social events with food.
– In ability to focus
– Becoming more forgetful and agitated
– Change in personality. (i.e. extrovert becomes introverted)
– Planning days around food or workouts (i.e. having to book a hotel room with a gym).
– Disguise their extreme exercise routine as “healthy” or a coping mechanism that they can’t go a day without.
– Picking food apart with their hands, chewing too much.
– Skin becomes exceptionally pale and sores may become visible on their skin.
– Jumbling words
– Content, numb (not being happy or sad, very indifferent) This was a BIG one for me!
What to Say/Ask to Help
Really…what do you say? This is hard and something people apologize to me about all the time since The Best Compliment Ever and I Shouldn’t Be Alive posts. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything anyone could say to help me. My heart goes out to everyone who wishes they would have said something. I actually want to thank you for your silence and continued prayers, I needed to hit rock bottom. Here are a few things I liked to hear or wish people would have said.
- If someone looks sick… Say, “The light in your eyes is dimming. Is there something that’s making you unhappy?” Most importantly do NOT talk about their body.
- I am just going to be here. I am going to be your constant, and you do not even have to tell me what’s wrong. We will have fun. I will treat you normally, not stare at you with concern. (This will make them trust you and not feel judged. By saying something along these lines you are creating a safe place for the victim). I desperately just wanted to have a constant in my life. The ED was the only thing I knew would be there no matter where I moved or who left me.
- I see there’s something inside of you bringing you down, and I know it’s not you. You are strong, beautiful, and not this thing that controls you.
- I don’t know what to do for you. I am scared and I know you are too.
- I hate eating disorders, but I do not hate you for having one. I understand the ED is separate from you. I think you are really strong for trying to get better everyday.
- It must really suck.
What not to do and say
Do not keep secrets from a secretive disorder. Secrets create distrust. With anorexia, I always felt everyone was out to get me. Although my feelings and beliefs were slightly off during my illness, this feeling I know was accurate to this day. I couldn’t confine in anyone, without my business being everyone’s or a trap to get me into treatment. This made me feel even more isolated and scared to get help.
Do not comment on body size or shape. Don’t do it, even if they are recovered. You may think telling someone with anorexia they look awfully skinny and terrible will motivate them, but I assure you it will not. I knew how terrible I looked, so when I heard this it just made me feel ashamed.
Do not talk negatively about your body or anyone else’s. Actually, just don’t talk about body’s at all.
Do not say you wish you had the willpower they did to “lose weight.” Believe it or not this happened to me all the time.
Do not try to scare them with statistics to get better. Just about everyone knows the harm of having an ED and engaging in behaviors. Trying to scare me to get better was not helpful. It was just discouraging.
What to do
Be a friend.
Be a distraction.
Treat them like the person you know they are. Invite them to everything. Invite them to dinner for the point of being with them, not to try to get them to eat. Plan fun things and always remind them that letting go of their disorder will reap so many rewards. Use positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement (i.e. scare tactics).
Lastly, help them find their identity in something other than their Eating Disorder. At one time the ED felt like my identity and without it, I was scared to be nothing. Better to be something bad than nothing at all, so I thought.
What you need to do to stop fueling the fire
Educate yourself. Face reality. Eating disorders are not exclusive to rich, white women, super-models, or children with trauma. Eating Disorders are dangerously inclusive.
Step 1: Stop feeding eating disorders: Oh the irony in this statement.
Stop marginalizing larger bodies and idealizing smaller bodies.
Stop YOUR diet.
Step 2: Throw away everything you thought you knew about eating disorders.
Throw away the idea that eating disorders are about food.
That it”s caused by childhood trauma or negative body image.
These can be the case but so many other factors play into it.
Step 3: Be honest-Do you have disordered eating or disordered eating?
The truth is, you can’t fully help someone struggling with an Eating Disorder if you’re bias to larger bodies, a chronic dieter, or anything but a HAES advocate. You can only take someone as far as you’ve gone yourself.
For more information please read Signs Of An Eating Disorder That Shouldn’t Be Mistaken For Healthy