At least 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Finding out that a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder can be scary and confusing. It is understandable that you want to help so here are 5 ways to be an ally to someone with an eating disorder.
1. Realize That an Eating Disorder Is A Mental Disorder
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Eating disorders are serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may be signs of an eating disorder. These disorders can affect a person’s physical and mental health; in some cases, they can be life-threatening.”
2. Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice
“You need to eat. You need to see a therapist. Stop acting like this you are going to die.” I have never had an eating disorder but I’ve definitely had some of those awful things said to me. Like last week for example, I was told I was “too fat.” I know I had put on some weight but saying that to anyone is just mean and wrong. What if I did, in fact, have an eating disorder? That could have triggered me.
Unsolicited advice is the worst. People who give it really think they are helping the person when in reality, they are doing more harm than good. I get it, giving advice is a normal response because you want to help. However, if you have never had an eating disorder you are not in a position to give advice.
3. Don’t Be the Food Police
It is very controlling to monitor what they are eating. Every time you point out what they have or haven’t eaten fills them with guilt and shame. This in turn will make them feel like they have to hide things from you. It will also make them regret ever confiding in you about their eating disorder. How would you feel if you were monitored on everything you ate? It feels horrible for someone else to be counting calories for you.
Under no circumstance should you get frustrated by their eating habits and never ever ever try to force them to eat. What you should do is show compassion. Many people with eating disorders experience intense levels of self-loathing and pain.
4. Avoid Talking About Weight and Food
According to voyagedetudes.com, “Avoid talking about weight, food, dieting, calories, and the like, and similarly, do not comment on your friend’s weight (loss or gain) or appearance. Even comments such as “you look so much healthier!” in recovery can be extremely triggering.”
Nowadays, people are obsessed with talking about body image, workouts, etc. Have you noticed how often people talk about weight and food? I think the main reason why is social media. Instagram is the culprit in my opinion. Also, celebrities shilling Flat Tummy Tea and appetite suppressants just adds to Western culture’s standard of beauty. If you don’t look like this you’re ugly; if you aren’t this skinny you’re not beautiful. It’s really disgusting.
5. Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help
You should encourage your loved one to seek professional help. They may have hesitation and doubts but it is up to you to assure them that the most effective way to treat their eating disorder is with professional help. People with eating disorders do not recover overnight so it is important to be patient with them every step of the way.