When a friend or relative has an eating disorder

When a friend or relative has an eating disorder

Eating disorders can affect anyone - it doesn't matter what age you are, or if you're male or female – and you may have someone quite close to you, who’s trying to cope right now. Because it can hard to recover, the help you can offer could make a big difference.

How can I tell if someone has an eating disorder? 

The person you know, may not realise they have an issue. Or they could be in denial. Having the confidence to confront someone, gently, could be crucial in helping them to take the first steps towards positive change.

There are four main types of eating disorder, and the symptoms do vary. But Beat - the eating disorder charity – points out some common symptoms, including:

  • often talking about weight or body shape
  • becoming isolated and/or withdrawn
  • significant changes in body shape and/or appearance
  • rarely eating in public or visiting the bathroom straight after a meal

If someone has an eating disorder, what can I do to help?
Understandably, the first conversation you have needs to be a sensitive one. Think carefully about what you want to say. Think about where to have the conversation, as it needs to be somewhere you both feel safe and won't be disturbed – and make sure the chat is a one-to-one.

Be prepared for a negative reaction. It may not happen, but sometimes, if someone’s in denial, then a negative reaction is a natural response. Don’t lose faith - the most important thing is that you've opened a door for future discussion.

Encourage the person to talk, to a professional if not to you. The earlier you can help someone get treatment, the more likely they are to engage with it and improve their chances of recovery.

What support can I offer?

Avoid doing or saying anything that could make the problem worse. Focus on building their self esteem - complement them and tell them how much you appreciate them. Include them in activities (even if they don't feel like joining in, your invitation is a reminder they’re valued).

Bear in mind there’s no quick fix when it comes to helping someone through their eating disorder. Your relationship may be challenged, but just being with someone and letting them know you’re there for support can make a real difference.

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