It can be painful and difficult to watch someone in the throes of an eating disorder and you may feel compelled to help. However, approaching a friend or family member that may have an eating disorder is a delicate matter. Here are some suggestions on how:
1. Plan ahead carefully. Pick the location and your words carefully. Ensure the location is private but doesn’t make them feel trapped. Don’t set it up like an intervention. Rather, set it up like a conversation. You don’t want them to feel like they are being cornered. Start with you- what you’ve noticed, that you’re concerned and ask if everything is OK. Finally, let them know that you’re there to talk.
2. Use lots of “I” statements. Bring it back to the fact that you’re concerned and that you care. This will help to break down the stigma and embarrassment that people tend to feel when they are mired in eating disordered behaviours. Keep it short…and the take away should be that you are there for them if they need someone to talk to. Let them know that the longer eating issues are not talked about, the worse they tend to get. But always position your statements from your perspective so they don’t feel judged or diagnosed.
3. Bring some informational material with you about eating disorders (a brochure…something small) and a small list of resources and/or people/organizations they can reach out to if they want to on their own. If they are offended by the implication that they may have an issue, simply invite them to read the material just in case or perhaps save the material for a time when they may be more willing to listen.
4. Listen. And if they are not ready, let it go. Unfortunately, until someone is ready, there is not much you can do. Just letting them know you are there and that you care is enough. You want to keep the lines of communication open.
5. If you are someone who has experienced an eating disorder, ensure that your own recovery is not endangered. Keep yourself safe above all. These kinds of situations are stressful and can be triggering. Know your limits…be sure your self-care comes first.