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How to Talk to a Loved One About an Eating Disorder

By Sum Ping, Fourth Year Peer Navigator • 17 Jul 2020 • 0 comments

Over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be suffering from an eating disorder. Chances are, there is someone close to you who has one. Whilst you can’t force someone with an eating disorder to change their habits around food, there are things that you can do to support them and encourage them to seek help.

There are several warning signs to watch for in someone with an eating disorder. Are they making excuses to avoid meals/situations involving food? Are they developing restrictive food rituals? Are they hoarding lots of high calorie foods? Are they using excessive amounts of mouthwash or perfume to disguise the smell of vomit? Are they frequently complaining about their size? These could all be indications that that person isn’t just trying to diet and lose weight healthily.

If you are worried a friend/loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, it is important to speak up and voice your concerns. Quite often they might be too scared to ask for help, or think that they don’t deserve any help. The longer a person’s eating disorder is left untreated, the worse the physical and emotional damage, so the sooner you start to offer your support, the higher the chances of them seeking treatment.

Eating disorders tend to quite a sensitive subject, so it is important to have the discussion in an understanding and sensitive manner. Pick a time where you can speak to the person in private, without time restraints. Try not to criticise their behaviours; point out specific situations and why they’ve worried you. It is natural that they may become angry or defensive—eating disorders are often a way for the person to cope with unpleasant emotions/situations, so conversations like these may seem threatening to them. Ask them if they have any reasons to change—if not for themselves, they may want to change for someone they love, or to return to doing something that they used to love doing. Finally, always be patient and supportive of them—it may take a while for them to open up and start to seek help. Try to listen without judgement, and make it clear that you’ll be there to support them whenever they’re ready.

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