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how to talk to a friend with an eating disorder

 

Watching someone that you love being active in their eating disorder is devastating.  It’s so painful to watch your mother, sister, wife or girlfriend (or husband, father, brother or son) either restrict their food, or binge on foods that are unhealthy for them, or to know that they’re purging in the bathroom after they’ve eaten. It’s painful and upsetting and scary.

You might find yourself becoming very angry at the person whom you love when you see them taking such poor care of themselves. It’s important to find compassion for the person who has the eating disorder when you choose to talk to them about it.

1.)Although you might feel angry, please try to understand that this is a serious problem that she/he has. They would certainly stop if they could.

2.)When you talk to them, don’t be attacking. If you come at the person and say things like, “you really need to be eating more,” or  “you have to take better care of yourself,” or “I want you to stop purging now,” you’re going to create a face off and a defensive stance. The person is going to be forced to defend themselves against this attack. Instead, talk to them using I statements. For example:

“I have noticed lately that you look very, very thin, and I’m worried. I haven’t seen you eat at all in several weeks. It’s really hard for me to watch this because I love you so much and I’m terrified that I’m going to lose you. I just don’t know what I would do without you. Is there anything I can do to support you? Would you be willing to do some family counseling with me with an eating disorder specialist? Or can we go see a nutritionist together and perhaps I can help you go shopping? I just really love you and want you to be healthy.”

Really contact your own feelings of fear rather than anger in order to get a conversation going.

3.)Don’t try to fix the person. Don’t try to take food away from them or force food on them. Don’t refuse to eat if they’re not eating. Don’t make comments about what they are or are not eating.

4.)Don’t be afraid to talk openly and honestly about how their eating is affecting you.

5.)Remember that this is a very hard topic and the person who you confront will most likely feel embarrassed and ashamed. You don’t want to shame them into recovery. In fact, this can often backfire. Let them know how much you love them and want to be there for them and you’re not going to let them go through this alone.

6.)Understand that recovery takes time, don’t expect them to see a therapist once and then all of a sudden to be cured. Be patient and if you can, try to be an active participant in their recovery.

7.)If this person is completely unreceptive to you, don’t push or get angry. Get help for yourself. You need support when you love someone with an active eating disorder. You might want to check out Al-anon or Codependents Anonymous or seek therapy or a support group for family members of people with EDs.

8.)Even though you might feel angry and frustrated (that’s so normal) don’t give up on someone you love. Let them know that you love them and you will be there for them when they are ready.

Recovery from eating disorders is hard. But watching someone struggle is downright painful. You feel helpless and scared and depressed. Please try to get love and support for yourself as well.

Some further reading and resources:

http://www.pbs.org/perfectillusions/help/friends.html

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-resources/family-and-friends.php

http://bingeeatingtherapy.com/?p=277

http://bingeeatingtherapy.com/?p=283

http://bingeeatingtherapy.com/forum/index.php?board=27.0

http://bingeeatingtherapy.com/forum/index.php?board=29.0

http://bingeeatingtherapy.com/forum/index.php?board=35.0

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  • Steven

    I need help understanding eating disorders…My wonderful girlfriend has a eating disorder and i have never delt with anything like this b4…I am tring to understand but it is soooo hard..anyhelp would be very helpful plz help

    • Leora Fulvio

      Hi Steven, I would suggest that you and your girlfriend see a family counselor who specializes in treating eating disorders for a psychoeducation session. This way she or he can help you to understand more about what your girlfriend is going through and your girlfriend can express her specific needs to you so that you can give her the help that she needs and you can take care of yourself in a healthful way. Often it’s hard for partners because they feel as though they are losing themselves while trying to save their loved one. It’s important that you talk to someone yourself in order not to lose yourself into her ED. Check out ED referral to find someone in your area who can give and your girlfriend some individual attention.

  • Justin

    I dont know what to do.. My wife and i have been maried for a little over a month. She used to have an eating disorder but had a good hold on it. But recently I got laid off and had trouble finding another job. During this time I was emotionally distant to her, and I honestly didn’t mean to be. But now she is purging again. I asked her if she wanted to get help. She down right said no. I even decided to quit smoking so we could do it together. But still no. She looks at me with a blank stare and said “No. I dont want to stop.” She has already purged three time in the last two days, and I know it is going to get worse. I need advice. I dont know what to do.

    • Leora Fulvio

      Justin, I’m so sorry that you and your wife going through this. I would highly recommend that the two of you get into couples counseling with a Marriage & Familty Therapist or Psychologist who specializes in treating eating disorders. You can find one at EDReferral.
      If your wife refuses, explain to her that this is for you to help you cope with her eating disorder because you don’t know how to handle it. If she still refuses, I would encourage you to go alone and talk to someone. Your wife’s bulimia is not your fault and sadly, you cannot fix it. She’s the only one who can take the initiative to do that. What you can do is tell her that you love her and that you’re there for her. You can tell her how hard it is to watch her suffer. You can tell her how scared you are that you are going to lose her. You can tell her that you will do anything to support her. You can ask her what she needs and how you can be there for her. By being honest about your feelings and talking to her in “I” statements (I feel scared/sad/nervous…etc.) and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and your feelings to be heard, you allow your wife to be less defensive. She then has the freedom to talk about what she’s feeling without being afraid of being chastised or forced to do something that she doesn’t want to.

  • Tyler

    Hi, I’m Tyler and I am 16 years old. I have been with my girlfriend for 9 months and she is binge eating. I want her to stop, but I feel like I’m always just digging my own grave in trying to stop her. I don’t want to go to anyone, because I don’t want her to feel as though I am attacking her through other people. She has told me that she doesn’t want to stop because she likes the control she has over her body, although she says she knows its unhealthy, wrong, and stupid. She did stop for a while, and lost 6 lbs healthily. I was so proud of her, but recently, she gained it back. Now she is starting all over again with her ED. I really want to help in any way I can. I am scared for her health and I feel like its putting a block on our relationship. Please help me…

    • Tyler

      Actually, she has become so focused on school and theater that she as basically stopped.

  • Jam

    My fiancé and I are new adults still living with our parents, going to college, working entry level jobs, that type of stuff. She has a binge eating problem and lots of self confidence problems. I think I do well helping. I have some different problems myself and I understand doing things (or not) and not understanding and feeling blamed by other people hurts because you already blame yourself but you don’t know how you got to be at fault or how to fix it just that you are at fault and people are attacking you for it. I can help her calm down and when I’m around it’s usually ok, but we live far apart and it’s hard when she’s binging on the phone with me and even with my most politic talking I can’t make her stop. She says she doesn’t want to and eating is a chore but she has to so she’ll never binge again. I don’t care if she loses weight or not. I could even live with her having a physically unhealthy lifestyle as long as she loved every second of it fully. I just want her to get on with her life and live it with passion instead of living the life of thinking about food and waiting to be freed. Maybe it’s also because I’m waiting to be freed too and I need motivation. But we can’t move forward with our lives until we’re better.