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What You Can Do :: Your Approach
Books :: Family & Friends
Approaching Someone You Care About

Here are are some ideas you should take into consideration when approaching a loved one with the possibility they are suffering with an Eating Disorder.

Be gentle and caring, and be prepared to listen without offering mounds of advice. You are not the person's therapist, nor should you pretend to be. Being a good listener means your ears are open and your mouth is shut, you are not intervening with "yeah, I know what you mean, that happened to me once when...." - just listen. If they then finish and ask what your thoughts or opinions are, be honest and caring.

Don't make the person feel threatened. It is not your job to dictate what they should and shouldn't do. If this person has finally decided to talk to you and trust you, cherish it and uphold your role in holding their confidence.

Be encouraging. The recovery road can be a long and uphill battle, with pitfalls and setbacks. Don't be disappointed or disapproving when a sufferer displays signs of falling back, just encourage them to continue pushing forward. Recovery is not only hard work, but can be very confusing and painful, be sure to remind them that you understand this, and that "you cannot always continue to stride forward without a stumble from time to time. It's okay."

Read as much as you can on the topic of Eating Disorders. The more you know, the more equipped you will be to offer a helping hand. Photocopy or print out articles of interest and if time presents itself share the info with your loved one, but do not overstep your boundaries. If the person has asked you not to do certain things, or talk about things, then respect their wishes.

Do not talk about food and weight! Don't continuously ask what the person has or hasn't eaten, how much weight they have lost, or how great or bad they look after gaining or losing. This is rude and very threatening and you cannot win either way. Saying they look "healthy since you've put on some weight" is heard as "you are fat," and expressing disappointment or concern in weight loss comes across as "you're a failure" or "you're a burden." By the same token, don't be afraid to talk in front of the person about your own day to day living (such as, "yeah, Fred and I went out for dinner last night and the steak was so good.") Your stumbling to avoid topics will be as noticed as your persistence in discussing them. Don't watch the person "like a hawk" when they are eating, or give looks when they excuse themselves from a meal or from the table. Recovery is not easy and does not happen overnight! Be respectful and courteous and do not try to be The Food Police.

If your loved one is looking for recovery resources try not to let him/her get discouraged. Unfortunately, there are doctors and therapists out there that do not know what they are doing, or who do not recognize Eating Disorders as the serious issue they are. Be supportive. If you feel it's within your boundaries, offer to help - find names of local support groups and therapists, and offer to go with them their first time if they'd like the company. If they are getting discouraged be patient, supportive and don't push. Recovery is a very personal choice each sufferer will need to make for him or herself.

Encourage them to find support in others who share the same experiences, through support groups, on-line bulletin boards or chat rooms, or through larger meetings like those of Overeaters Anonymous. There is a list of national organizations in the Links and Resources Section which will give you and your loved one a good place to start.

Don't pretend to understand, if you have never had an Eating Disorder yourself.... it will sound condescending and disingenuous. You can be supportive without living with Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating yourself, and your loved-one will appreciate that more than you putting on a facade of empathy. The sufferers of Eating Disorders can do better in their own recovery with a good support network behind them... consider it this way -- don't we all do better in life when we know we have people we can count on? Learn to be a good listener and what "being there" for someone truly means.

If you have anything you'd like to ad to this section that you think could be helpful, please feel free to write to us.


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