Trying to recover from an eating disorder is really hard.
You know what else is pretty hellish? Watching somebody you love try to recover from an eating disorder.
I’ve been on both sides. I’ve had people trying to help me, saying the wrong things, and I’ve tried to help friends, and said the wrong things. It isn’t an easy thing to navigate.
I was going to write a post on how to support a loved one through recovery, then realized I’d need a whole lot more than one post. So here’s part 1.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What happens if you suspect someone has an eating disorder, but you’re not sure?
If it’s someone you don’t know well, you may not be the best person to confront them. Consider broaching the subject with someone closer to them or, if appropriate, with a teacher, guidance counsellor, religious leader, etc. They may know something about the situation that you don’t.
If it’s someone close to you, a friend or family member, approach the situation carefully. Find an appropriate moment, and calmly express concern. What specific things make you suspect they have an eating disorder?
“I’ve noticed that you are spending a lot of time in the bathroom after meals. Is everything alright?”
“I’ve noticed that you’ve lost a lot of weight lately. Is there something going on that you’d like to talk about?”
If you immediately suggest “eating disorder”, it may make them panic and deny. They may panic and deny anyhow. Maybe they really don’t have an eating disorder. Maybe they just aren’t ready to talk about it. If they answer with a “Nope, everything’s fine,” accept that, and make it clear that you’re available to talk if they need to. They may get really angry. That’s okay. Keep your cool, and let them know that you only asked because you care. They may come to you later, they may not come to you at all, or you may have inspired them to speak to someone else. Try not to take it personally, any way.
If the person in question is a child, however, get them to a doctor to make sure everything really is fine. If it isn’t fine (or if your doctor says everything’s fine, but you’re sure that something is going on), get your child to an eating disorder specialist right away. There are a lot of great doctors and therapists out there, but if they don’t have a special understanding of eating disorders, they may end up doing more harm than good.
Take a deep breath. It’s a scary thing to deal with, but there is help out there. You are not alone.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Taking Action
If you need help finding eating disorder specialists to work with, check out the National Eating Disorders Association or the National Eating Disorder Information Centre in Canada. If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, feel free to contact me at email@example.com for my recommendations.