In the first part of a series on WHAT TO? I am going to examine and sift through the often challenging areas to navigate of communication around Eating Disorders.
This field is my area of expertise and one that I would love to bring more communication, demystification and realization around. The truth is heavy, I realize that seems like a pun, and it can be…but Eating Disorders kill. I am not being dramatic, the statistics prove that eating disorders are the number one cause of death amongst all mental illness. Think about that for a second. This is not about a fad diet, weight loss, or the latest and greatest, this is a disease that however came to be, is relentless in letting go of its grip. BUT, and here is the large BUT, yes another pun, there is hope. There is “cure”, “remission” and resolve. I refuse to believe differently or else I would not be doing what I am doing.
Here we begin to scratch the surface and hopefully move from there. So shall we?
What do I say if I think my friend or loved one is struggling with an Eating Disorder?
SAY SOMETHING. This may be one of the most common questions I get asked, and simply put, it is better to say something than to say nothing at all.
Is it uncomfortable the notion that you may meet resistance and confrontation maybe even ager, perhaps, but is that worth potentially helping someone you love out, probably. Sometimes just saying, I have concerns about your health and your relationship with foods. Or even just – I am worried, is enough. Often what you may not realize is that people with disordered eating can feel fuelled by that lack of reflection back, that there is a problem going on. If no one says something, I must be totally fine…etc etc. This is how the eating disordered brain likes to operate. As uncomfortable as it may be for both parties involved, saying nothing may only make matters worse.
How Can I help a friend with an eating disorder?
Two pieces of advice…
- Don’t give advice. No seriously. If you can, just try and allow them to guide you in what they need in support.
- Just be there. Be present, be company, be willing.
People often feel anxious about not being able to “help” or “fix” something that is out of their control. Just being able to ask, what do you need from me as a friend, and or just being ok with sitting and being with that person whenever and however stuff comes up for them, is the best support of all. Advice is hard to give in this scenario, but listening is absolutely INVALUABLE.
They look like they are healthy so what’s the problem? or They are still eating so they must be healthy…
Don’t equate weight or eating for that matter, with health. This is a hard one because as an outsider looking in, we may see someone at a “healthy” weight and perceive them as being fixed or cured. It’s important to understand a few things:
- Visual appearance bears no weight to an eating disorder
- People can be all shapes and sizes and still have an eating disorder!
- People with eating disorders eat. Sometimes not enough, too much or even exactly what you think they “should” be eating
Why can’t they just eat/not make themselves sick/stop eating?
You have to remember that eating disorders are not a choice but an illness. It is easy to forget that, as in today’s culture we all seem to be obsessed with food, dieting and wellness, therefore it can be hard for you to differentiate the difference, but there really is one. An obvious choice to us may mean a meaningful loss for someone else. This disease helps the suffering in some capacity to help cope with their life and although it does not appear to be working for them any more, the belief is that it really does and drives a lot of fear at letting go.
Is this something that she/he is going to have to suffer from forever and monitor?
NO! There is a common misconception that eating disorders like many addictions are a permanent state of recovery and sometimes relapse. Although this can certainly be the case, there is absolutely possibility of life without and I think that is an important notion to keep in play. Why would anyone ever want to get better if they thought they would just have to “live with it”. Sounds a bit ridiculous, no?
I feel like the eating disorder is more important than our friendship?
It is and it isn’t. To the one with the eating disorder they become a slave to it, and therefore become a slave to filling up this space as a priority. It’s not an easy thing to take the back-burner to an illness but try and remember that this is not a choice but rather a consequence of the effects of severe eating disorder.
I understand. I am not happy with my body either…
It is one thing to try and be empathetic but another to compare the feelings between “diet” (which I hate that word btw) and disease. Yes, chances are we have all experienced some dissatisfaction, disappointment and despair for our bodies. The very different factor is that we do not all have the impetus to then hurt ourselves because of it. It’s a beautiful thing to show empathy and much encouraged but you do not need to understand an eating disorder to be a supportive friend.
How does one get over an eating disorder?
Usually with a strong desire to and a team of helpful people to guide along the way. This quote strikes me so relevant with Eating Disorders
” Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change”
Receiving treatment and becoming well after an eating disorder can take time and trial and error. But essentially it takes Physical, mental and emotional work. This usually requires an experienced therapist, nutritionist and an individual that is willing to sit with the emotional work that comes from treating their body better.
Physical nutrition and health restoration is pivotal in being able to do the work. A nourished body will significantly think and act differently when adequately and optimally fed. There are also many side effects of a battles with eating disorders that it is essential to address physical. Once this takes place, one can start to work through the layers. This is the stuff that comes up around food and also emotions and often both together.
WHats the deal with people that are obsessive about eating REALLY healthy? Isn’t that a disease too?
Yes and no. If it is interfering with that persons quality of life, then yes, that would be a problem. If it comes from a place of balance, effort and also feels beneficial to ones overall holistic health, then probably not.
It’s hard to exist in todays society without some mass awareness of food, superfood, raw, vegan etc etc. There is a term for extremely restrictive behavior labelled as orthorexia in which one restricts foods to being the nutritionally best, or good, or pure etc. This is a newer designated area for eating disorders and it does exist and although can fall into grey area of some continuum of disordered eating, is important to acknowledge as well.
Lastly…If you or someone you know is struggling and/or looking for help with an eating disorder you can get in touch by email and or find resources in your area. The path can be hard as it is a new one, but it absolutely can be yours to recreate. Peace, love and food. Kate