How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder
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Eating disorder awareness week is upon us, and the campaign is even more important now than ever. There are still many misconceptions about eating disorders, and far too often, a lack of access to treatment.
For these reasons, we need to advocate for increased understanding and change around how eating disorders are viewed and treated. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week aims to increase education about eating disorders and ultimately increase hope and support for all those who suffer from them.
What is an eating disorder?
Despite common misconceptions, eating disorders are not lifestyle choices that went “too far” – they are significant mental illnesses that have potentially life-threatening consequences for those who struggle with them. Eating disorders are characterized by obsessive thoughts, behaviors, and core beliefs around food and body weight. Therefore, someone who has an eating disorder uses food as a means to cope with these negative thoughts, anxiety, and attitudes.
To further eating disorder awareness, it is important to recognize that anyone of any age, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and race can get an eating disorder. However, they are particularly common in teenagers between the ages of thirteen and seventeen.
Furthermore, there are a number of different forms of eating disorders that can impact people’s lives in a variety of different ways. According to the DSM-5, eating disorders can be classified as follows:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders)
- ARFID (Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder)
- Rumination disorder
- UFED (Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder)
Eating Disorder Symptoms
There are a variety of symptoms to be mindful of if you are concerned that you have an eating disorder. These include:
- Anxious or obsessive thoughts about your weight or the shape of your body.
- Restricting your food intake drastically.
- Inducing vomiting after eating or ingesting laxatives.
- Avoiding social occasions where there might be food.
- Uncompromising routines around food.
- Alterations to your mood, such as anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, you may experience physical changes such as:
- Excessive tiredness.
- Feeling faint or dizzy.
- Symptoms of poor circulation.
- Increased heart rate.
- Digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.
- Interruptions to your period/puberty.
- Severe weight changes.
Bearing in mind that it can be challenging to detect an eating disorder in a loved one, if you wish to improve your eating disorder awareness, or are concerned about signs of an eating disorder in someone you know, you could keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Severe weight changes.
- Secretiveness/lying about their food intake or weight.
- Consuming large amounts of food in a short time.
- Going to the bathroom immediately after eating.
- Excessive exercise.
- Disguising weight loss through loose clothing.
- Avoiding social occasions that may require eating.
- Cutting their food up into tiny pieces.
- Taking excessively long to eat small amounts.
The American Psychiatric Association provides more detailed information on the symptoms of the different forms of eating disorders should you wish to find out more.
How to help someone with an eating disorder
This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, it's important to highlight the ways in which you can help someone with an eating disorder. However, the fact that you are educating yourself on what eating disorders are, as well as their symptoms, you are clearly already providing your loved one with much-needed support. Nevertheless, you can also support someone with an eating disorder in the following ways:
- Make them feel valued – they may be resistant to participate in social activities, but keep encouraging them to engage in as many events with family and friends as they did prior to the development of their eating disorder. Doing so will help them feel good about themselves because others clearly want them around.
- Promote their self-esteem through positive validation – telling them that you think they’re wonderful, and how grateful you are to have them in your life, will likely improve their sense of self-worth.
- Be patient – it may be difficult not to argue with their negative self-perceptions, but try to listen to them without judgement. Remember, you don’t need to know all the answers to provide effective support – making sure that they know you’re there for them is often enough.
For more in-depth advice on how to help someone with an eating disorder, then our guide may help. Furthermore, if you would like to know more about our IOP program for eating disorder treatment, please contact HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York, at 518-218-1188.
With our new online therapy capabilities, HPA/LiveWell can now offer eating disorder treatment to anyone within not only the Capital Region, the Hudson Valley region – Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Newburgh, White Plains, Kingston, and surrounding New York cities, but we can offer mental health services and eating disorder treatment to anyone throughout New York state.