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What You Can Do

Here are some of the things you should think about regarding what you can and can't do for someone suffering from an Eating Disorder.

What You Can (and Can't) Do

The first thing to keep in mind is that as an "outsider" (not suffering from an Eating Disorder yourself) there are many things you cannot do to help a family member or friend to get better. You cannot force an Anorexic to eat, keep a bulimic from purging, or make a Compulsive Overeater stop overeating. The first thing to realize once you have come to the awareness that your loved-one suffers from an Eating Disorder, is that you must not concentrate immediately on the food. All forms of Eating Disorders are emotionally based and the behaviors are only a symptom to emotional and stress related problems. As said many times on this site, disordered eating is an attempt to control, hide, stuff, avoid and forget emotional pain, stress and/or self-hate.

If you are the parent of a child under 18 you will have difficult decisions to make regarding their care. Regardless of pleas to "not make me," and promises that the behavior will stop, you will have to stay very attuned to what is happening with your child and may have to force them to go to doctors and/or the hospital. Keep in mind how serious Eating Disorders are and that they can kill.

If your relationship with someone suffering from Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating is anything other than their parent, or if your child is over the age of 18 then you cannot force them to seek help. You can support and encourage your loved one, and gently express concern, and the best thing you can do is to learn to attentively listen.

In most cases it will be important for each sufferer to find a mode of recovery that will work for them. One-on-one therapy, support groups, clinics, in-patient or out-patient, art therapy, church groups, a combination of any, or none of the above but something completely different ... there are many options out there. Share this website, help your friend or family member to gather information if they are open to your help. Be encouraging -- there can be a lot of road blocks in searching for Eating Disorder recovery so be reassuring that recovery is possible! Be there to listen and communicate.

Some options for local treatment are here ... and a listing a national organizations is here. Most of the national organizations can refer you to local chapters, support groups and therapy in your area.

For the Anorexic or Bulimic who exhibits any of the following signs it may be essential to encourage them into medical treatment, in-patient in a hospital, immediately: Dizziness, fatigue, black-outs, extreme temperature sensitivity, chest pains, tingling in hands or feet, blood in stools or vomit, stomach pains, incontinence or uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea, and/or 25% or more weight loss of total average body weight in a short period of time.

There are many signs and symptoms as well as physical dangers. It is important to remember that the continued behaviors of Eating Disorders can lead to many physical problems, further emotional difficulties, and even death.

Keep in mind there isn't a lot you can do overall, as an "outsider" to a close family member or friend suffering from an Eating Disorder. It is up to the individual suffering to decide they are ready to deal with the emotional issues in their life that have lead them to their Eating Disorder. They need to make a choice for recovery and to want to do the work to get there. There is no one in their lives that can make this choice for them, they must want to do it for themselves.

For advanced cases of Anorexia and Bulimia, the course of treatment will usually begin with stabilizing the patient's health, and from there it is imperative that a course of therapy, both individual and/or group, take place. For cases in which the patient's life it not in immediate danger, it is important they seek therapy, from an experienced therapist in the area of treating eating disorders, with or without group therapy. Unfortunately, more often than not, sufferers tend to reach life threatening situations before they seek help, even if then. And in some cases, once they've come out of immediate danger and left the hospital there is no follow up of treatment, so they only find themselves back in the hospital shortly after. This can continue for years and is destructive both emotionally and physically, but the final action to get better lies in the patient's desire to get better. Often times they feel afraid to ask for help, or don't feel there is a proper forum in which to ask. More often than not, the Eating Disorder sufferer does not feel they deserve help.


Things You Shouldn't Say...

"Are you sick?"
"You look like you have AIDS"

Let's remember that the person with an Eating Disorder ALREADY has a low self esteem. Why would you want to say these things to anyone, let alone someone with an Eating Disorder (and what if the person in question really was HIV positive, or suffering with AIDS)? There's nothing wrong with approaching a close friend or family member you may be concerned about and saying "you've lost a lot of weight and I'm concerned about you" in a caring way, followed by "I'm here to listen if you want to talk," but any comment that comes across as insulting or an attack will be heard defensively and unproductive for what your original intention may have been.

"Would you just eat already!"
"I don't understand WHY you don't just eat..."
"You better stay out of the *&%'ing bathroom!"

These are not words of love, but of control. Threatening an Anorexic or Bulimic with "take-over" is not a good idea if you're trying to help. Let's try to keep in mind too, like we said earlier, there is a lot of guilt attached to Eating Disorders, so laying it on thick with statements like these only perpetuates that. If you're close enough, there's nothing wrong with a gentle "Want to have some dinner with me?" or "Talk to me" after a meal, but lets keep the mind games to ourselves. With statements like these the person seeking to help is only trying to pacify his or her own guilt in not being able to help, and looking for a quick fix.

"Why are you doing this to me?"
"Would you look at what you're doing to your boyfriend/husband/wife/kids..."

Again, with these types of questions you are only perpetuating guilt. You're basically saying "why do you make everyone so miserable" and "why do you burden us with all this worry" which is nothing but selfish, and even if not meant selfishly, will only be perceived as a "don't burden us with your problems" or "look at all the trouble you're causing." If you are close to someone with an eating disorder (and you might be if you're reading this) take it as an opportunity for yourself to learn to communicate more clearly, and to be a more understanding individual. Those suffering with an Eating Disorders are not DOING anything to you, but are struggling tremendously themselves, inside. You need to keep this in mind when posing questions that are selfishly motivated or hurtful (even if unintentionally).

"Why are you doing this to yourself?"
"You have good things in your life, what's the problem?"

Those with an Eating Disorder do not choose to do this to themselves. There is no conscious choice (in most cases) where a person suffering from an Eating Disorder would prefer that lifestyle as opposed to one filled with self-love and happiness. This is a coping mechanism, a means for dealing with depression, stress and self-hate that has been built up over many years. It is a reflection of how the person suffering feels about themselves inside. Wonderful husbands, kids, supportive friends have little influence (other than sometimes temporarily) in creating the true self-esteem required for permanent recovery, to cope with life positively, and to learn to believe that we deserve good things in life and happiness. These disorders are about the person suffering and how they feel about themselves.


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