Watching someone, you love struggle with an eating disorder can be an incredibly painful experience. In many cases, those on the outside feel very helpless and as if they have no choice but to watch their loved one slowly fade away due to their mental disorder. If this is your situation, you are not alone. And as much as it may not seem like it now, there are things that you can do to help your loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder.
The first step is learning how to identify the type of eating disorder your loved one is struggling with and how to positively and productively confront them about it and encourage them to seek help. It's important to note that eating disorders and substance use disorders (SUDs) often go hand in hand. This is something to consider as you prepare to confront your loved one.
Identifying the Type of Eating Disorder
Some of the most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. These disorders present themselves differently from person to person.
#1 Anorexia Nervosa
Someone struggling with this type of eating disorder views themselves in a skewed way. They may see themselves as being overweight even if they are really dangerously underweight. They are often obsessed with every calorie that they consume and strictly limit their food intake. They may also exercise excessively in order to stay as thin as possible and go long periods of time without eating. When this goes on over time, an individual can struggle with things like weak bones, brittle hair, infertility, organ failure, and even death. Some common signs that someone is struggling with this disorder include:
- Skipping meals
- Exhibiting an excessive fear of gaining weight
- Being in denial that they are underweight or that they need help
- Looking in the mirror constantly
- Frequently weighing themselves
#2 Bulimia Nervosa
This disorder is similar to anorexia in the sense that an individual is obsessed with their weight and often have a distorted vision of their appearance. But someone with bulimia will sometimes eat a large amount of food over a short period of time. They will then purge in order to avoid gaining weight. They will do this either by forcing themselves to vomit or by using laxatives. This can be harder to spot than anorexia, as many people with this disorder manage to maintain a pretty normal weight. This disorder can lead to acid reflux, throat problems, and tooth decay. Some signs that someone is struggling with this disorder include:
- Hiding wrappers or evidence of what they ate
- Going to the restroom immediately after a meal
- Constantly checking one's weight
- Looking in the mirror constantly
#3 Binge Eating Disorder
This disorder is similar to bulimia in that an individual will eat a large amount of food over a short period of time. However, they will not purge, which causes them to gain weight very quickly. They often feel a deep sense of shame and guilt after a binge eating session. They can struggle with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, a heightened risk of diabetes, and a heightened risk of stroke. Some signs someone is struggling with this include:
- Food disappearing quickly
- Sudden weight gain
- Signs of binge eating (wrappers, empty food packages, etc.)
Helping Someone You Love With an Eating Disorder
After you have done your research and have a better understanding of what you're loved one is going through, you can prepare to confront them. You'll want to have this conversation in a private environment where the individual will feel comfortable. You'll want to prepare what you're going to say ahead of time so that you don't say anything you don't mean.
When you're speaking to this individual, avoid getting emotional, blaming them for their behavior, or raising your voice. Calmly explain to them that you're worried about the danger they are putting themselves in by engaging in this risky behavior and that you've come to them from a place of love, not judgment. Avoid unuseful statements such as "just stop" or "just eat." This is a disorder that is out of this individual's control. It's not something that they can simply stop in an instant.
Many people who struggle with an eating disorder don't believe that there's a way out. Help your loved one to know that there is hope and that they don't have to continue to live this way. Encourage them to seek professional help and let them know that you'll be there to support them along the way. It can also be helpful to present them with resources directing them to local treatment.
Many people across the country struggle with eating disorders. It's hard to watch someone you love go through this struggle, and many loved ones of people struggling with eating disorders feel helpless. If you're going through this, there are ways that you can help your loved one, and you don't have to continue living this way. Three of the most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. When you're ready to confront your loved one and ask them to seek professional help, make it clear you do not judge them. It's important to acknowledge that substance use and eating disorders often go hand in hand, so you'll want to consider this when you start the process of helping your loved one. If you or a loved one is struggling, our team at The Ho Tai Way can help. Call (714) 581-3974 today.