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How to Help a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

If you believe your loved one is in danger, call 911 immediately.

It’s challenging to help friends or family members who are struggling with an eating disorder and not receiving the help they need. February is Eating Disorder Awareness month and if you need some guidance, there are several ways you can safely assist your loved one towards getting help from a mental health professional.

Prepare for your Conversation

It’s important to prepare ahead of time and educate yourself prior to talking to your loved one. Your loved one is likely experiencing anxiety, shame, denial, or may not even realize that they have a problem. Be prepared for anger or denial in response to your conversation.

If you need some outside support prior to your conversation, consider setting up a meeting with a mental health professional or support organization before talking to your loved one. They can give you guidance and may be able to give you ideas or materials to help you have a productive first conversation with your loved one.

Make a Safe Space for Conversation

Because of the nature of the conversation, create a caring environment that supports calm and open conversation. If you can have the conversation in a place your loved one feels most comfortable, such as their home, they are more likely to feel safe. If you are in a situation, such as a family holiday where food is a focal point or emotions are high, try to save the conversation for a time when food not involved, and you are both more likely to have clear heads.

Use the Right Language

As you have your conversation, your loved one may have a fear of showing their true feelings or disclosing certain behaviors. Show that you care about them and that you want to support them through the process of getting help and working towards getting better. Here are some language tips you can use in your conversation:

· Make your loved one feel comfortable and safe talking to you
· Encourage them to describe how they feel versus talking about how you feel
· Don’t rush the conversation – give them time to process and talk it out
· Listen with respect and avoid judgment or critical words
· Use “I” statements such as “I am worried about you”, or “I care about your health”
· Be encouraging of your loved one getting help and let them know you’ll continue to support them

Avoid focusing on food during your conversation and instead, try talking about how your loved one is feeling day-to-day. You should also stay away from words that imply blame or that your loved one is doing something wrong or making mistakes. Manipulative statements such as “think about what you’re doing to your family” or “if you loved us, you’d eat” are also damaging and could even make the problem worse.

Do not threaten your loved one during the conversation. This is especially important if you are in an adult-child situation. Avoid threatening punishment as this can also be harmful and counterproductive to your conversation.

Talk to Someone

While keeping privacy into consideration, you may need to seek help from others in order to provide more support. Use discretion and reach out to someone both you and your loved one trust, or another close friend or family member. By working together, you can help get your loved one the help you need, and you have someone in your corner as well.

Don’t wait until the situation is so bad that your loved one’s health or life is in danger. And remember, you cannot force anyone to change their habits, get help, or get better overnight. Seek professional help if you need it or call our office if you need help getting started.

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