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How Do I Help a Friend With an Eating Disorder?

When a friend has an eating disorder, because you care about them naturally you want to help.  As someone who had bulimia for 20 years, I can think of very few friends who I let know I had an eating disorder before I was fully recovered.  It was definitely my secret and something I didn’t want anyone knowing about.  Bulimia is like a hidden drug addiction and an addict doesn’t want to come out of the closet if they’re not ready.

I’ve been thinking about how to help friends and loved ones who want to help those they know or think might have an eating disorder provide support to them.  I’d like to share what I think might be helpful, but I want this to be a discussion.  What I most want to know is..

 If you were to have someone you loved confront you about your eating disorder recovery how would someone who cared about you show they genuinely loved you and supported you?

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My Thoughts On…

How To Help a Loved One With an Eating Disorder

Here are a few recommendations I would share with someone who told me they had a friend with an eating disorder and wanted to help:

1. Don’t confront someone with anorexia or bulimia head-on (at least not at first).  Instead, find a way to show them you are supportive of people with eating disorders in general and believe that people with eating disorders are good people who just need support along the way.  Let them know people with anorexia or bulimia aren’t bad or wrong.  Talk about generalities so the person sees you’re on their side and respect their struggles.  It’s best if you can use a 3rd person (maybe a celebrity or a media article) to bring up the subject.

2. Show compassion. If you feel comfortable approaching a friend or loved one you think has an eating disorder, show them true compassion.  Because you are their friend or loved one, they will naturally trust you, but they will be afraid to face their eating disorder – it’s something they’ve known and trusted to help them through tough times for perhaps months or years.  I recommend reading bulimia recovery stories so you can better understand what their life is like.

3. Be patient. Everyone’s eating disorder recovery path is unique.  Trying to pressure them or insist that they take action right away, show discipline or get help immediately isn’t a sign that you love and support them unconditionally.  Your hope for your friend or loved one to have recovery for themselves won’t help them if you don’t allow them to recover at their own speed and in whatever way(s) feel best for them.

4. Don’t insist you know what’s best for them.  Bulimia and anorexia are usually a sign of control (well, they’re much more than this, but they create a state of control for the sufferer.  Something they feel they influence when their world seems out of control).  If you read something in a textbook or from a medical journal, don’t push it on them.  Not every recovery method works for everyone and NO amount of love and support will do much good until your loved one is ready, willing and committed to their recovery.

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5. Start to see your friend as already recovered.  This is the most crucial thing you can do – if you ask me  – to help your friend with an eating disorder overcome it.  Creating a vision in your mind of your friend as already recovered, living their life free of an eating disorder and sending them your love during their journey is the most important way you can support them.  Recovery is their work to do…your role is that of love and support.

What Would You Want Your Loved One to Do If They Believed You Had An Eating Disorder?

I’ve shared these ideas for how to help a friend with an eating disorder, but these are just my thoughts.  What do you think?  Please share below on my bulimia recovery blog what you think a friend could do for you to help you along your journey.