The most effective way to address an eating disorder is to identify its signs symptoms and seek professional help as soon as possible. Receiving treatment early increases the likelihood of a successful recovery, and it is critical for family members and friends to get involved at the first signs of their loves one exhibiting the symptoms of an eating disorder.
Even though there’s a chance you could be wrong about someone’s eating habits, and you might offend and upset that person, there’s also a chance that you’re right – and that the person you care about is deep in despair. If you notice signs that concern you, don’t hesitate to speak up. It could save someone’s life.
Step 1: Start a Conversation
First, try communicating your concerns to your loved one in a non-judgmental and non-accusatory way, explaining specific instances when you felt concerned about his or her behaviors. This conversation may be informal, or may be planned in advance with or without the help of a professional, as is the case with an eating disorder intervention.
An eating disorder intervention is an event where close friends and family members gather to speak with the individual suffering from an eating disorder, and describe the consequences of his or her disease. In most cases, the purpose of the intervention is to ask the individual to enter into treatment for his or her eating disorder.
Step 2: Prepare for Denial
If the person denies that a problem exists, share your feelings and practice active listening. Provide some literature or Internet resources that describe the symptoms of eating disorders, the same ones that he or she is exhibiting, and the treatment options that are available.
Remember, you’re speaking with someone who is suffering from a life-threatening mental illness. There are no simple solutions and there is no place for blame or guilt.
Step 3: Don't Give Up
Even if you face resistance, approach your friend or loved one with concern and compassion and keep providing support as long as he or she needs it. Don’t make unrealistic demands or ultimatums, and do your best to remain calm and not get angry.
Eating disorders are powerful defense mechanisms people use in the face of painful emotions. This means it can take time before the person is willing to admit they have an eating disorder, and even longer until he or she is willing to do something about it. Remain patient with this person, continually reminding him or her that you are one of their pillars of support.
Step 4: Get Help
Staging an intervention and offering support and information about eating disorder treatment options may be the most important things you can do for someone with an eating disorder. Eating disorders inflict significant damage on the body – damage that gets worse over time and that can be difficult to reverse. The sooner your loved one speaks with a doctor or enters an eating disorder treatment program, the sooner her or she can take back his or her health and life.
Eating disorder treatment programs will assess the individual’s symptoms and medical condition, and create an individualized treatment plan tailored to his or her particular needs. If any co-occurring mental illnesses exist, such as depression or anxiety, the treatment team can address those issues as well.
While you can’t force someone to stop their disordered thoughts and behaviors, you are not powerless in the face of an eating disorder. By offering your support and encouraging your loved one to enter treatment, your voice can help save a life.