How to Speak to Someone Who Needs Help for an Eating Disorder
"What can I do to help? I'm scared I may make it worse," she confided to me.
Recently, one of my friends expressed concern for another friend who appears to be struggling with an eating disorder.
I thought about her words, and wanted to share my thoughts with you here today about how to start a conversation about eating disorders:
Tip 1: Know when to speak up
It's not a question of "if" you speak up but rather "HOW" you speak up that makes the difference.
Remember, this situation is impacting someone’s health, so it is important to intervene somehow.
By saying something about the problem, we can avoid regret. We will never have to say, "I wish I had said…”
Remember: eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and many of those who die have taken their own life. Eating disorders are a big deal, friends. We must be brave and do our part to help those we care about.
You can also start by getting educated on warning signs of eating disorders; check out our articles about anorexia symptoms, bulimia symptoms and binge eating symptoms.
Tip 2: Speaking out may not be as hard as you think
When people ask me for tips on how to talk to a loved one who may be struggling with a serious issue, I always remember what my hubby, Tim Harrington (a family interventionist) tells me to say:
- Say, "This is what I see." [The eyewitness account] Stick to "I" statements because they are nonjudgmental, non-shaming and non-blaming. Calmly paint a picture of what you see with your own eyes. Share just the facts. For example, you could say, “I see that you leave the table consistently after you have eaten. I see you have lost a lot of weight. I've seen you, on three occasions, decline to come with the group to participate in your favorite activity, and I don't see you laugh like you used to.”
- Say, "This is what I fear" [The anticipated outcome] Be very specific and speak from your heart. For example, you could say: “I am concerned that you may have an eating disorder. If you do not get help, you may die or even take your own life.”
- Say, "This is what I hope" [The resolution] Share with them what you hope for and the resolution you seek. For example, you could say: “I hope that you will accept help and go to treatment. Will you?”
Tip 3: Express your love and concern
What if the person that you are concerned about does not agree to seek help, or denies that there is a problem? In this situation, you might ask them to call the assessment line of a treatment center to get more information about treatment. You could stay by their side during the call, supporting them the entire time.
If your loved one is not ready to go to an eating disorder clinic, you could ask them to commit to doing something a little less threatening. Perhaps they would agree to see an eating disorder specialist one time, accompanied by you, if they so desire. And, if they refuse to talk about their problem at all, regroup and try another time.
As friends and loved ones, we never, ever give up, but we never nag. We simply share our love and concern for their well-being.
Recovery doesn't happen by chance, it happens by choice. Choose to act.
The point of this process is to help someone have a different prospective of their situation. By sharing our truth, we can hopefully help them move toward change and a better way of living. So now that you have a few possible ways to approach the conversation with your loved one, will you speak up, speak loud, speak strong, and possibly help save a life?
Robyn Cruze is National Recovery Advocate and online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.