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How To Help Someone With an Eating Disorder

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Updated October 03, 2011

If you have observed behaviors in someone you care about that indicate a possible eating disorder--restricted eating, extreme weight loss, loss of periods, fat phobia, binging and purging--you may be feeling helpless and wondering what you can do to help. These steps are a starting place for you to show your friend that you care and want to help.
Time Required: As Long as it Takes

Here's How:

  1. Find a time when you can sit with them in a private place and talk.
  2. Tell your friend in a caring and straightforward way what your concerns are.
  3. Listen to what your friend has to say without judgment, anger or criticism. If your friend doesn't admit to a problem, don't start an argument. Simply reiterate that you are concerned and care about him/her.
  4. Provide your friend with information about resources and treatment. Offer to go with him/her for moral support if they see a doctor, therapist or nutritionist.
  5. If you feel their health has detoriated far enough that they need immediate medical help, you may wish to enlist the aid of a counselor, friends or family members before intervening.
  6. If they deny a problem, become angry or refuse to get help, understand that this is part of the illness. Unless they are a minor child that you are the parent or guardian of or their life is in immediate danger, you may have to accept the fact that you can't do more to help them.
  7. If you have tried your best to convince them to get help and they refuse, you have done all that you can. Eating disorders can be difficult to treat and treatment works best when the patient has reached a point where they are ready to accept help.

Tips:

  1. Eating disorders are not solely the domain of girls and women. Males can fall prey to eating disorders too.
  2. If the person is feeling suicidal or their health is in immediate danger, obtain professional help immediately. Dizziness, passing out and chest pains are just a few signs of a problem that needs medical attention.
  3. If you know that someone will confront the person with anger or accusations, don't include them in the intervention. Keep the tone supportive.
  4. Don't get into a battle of wills. If you are getting nowhere, end the conversation, but leave the door open for further communication in the future.
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