Supporting someone who has food and/or body image issues

Helping someone with an eating disorder can be very difficult.  Below are a number of things that can make the process easier for the both of you.

  • Be patient.  Recovery from an eating disorder can be a long process.  Do not expect overnight recovery even if the person is seeing a counsellor or attending a group.  Support them in making changes in their own time.
  • Do not lay blame.  This only reinforces the person’s feelings of shame. 
  • Spend time listening.
  • Show that you care.  Be as warm and supportive as you can without making them the focus of your attention. 
  • Avoid food related discussions or discussions focusing on weight or body size.  These can reinforce the persons feelings of inadequacy.  Focus your attention as well as your comments on things other than appearance.  Eg “I like the way you laugh/handle your work/talk to your friends”.
  • The person must feel that they are making their own choices regarding the time, speed and resources they use in their daily routine.  This can be frustrating for supporters, however the situation may become worse if the person feels that they have lost control.  Treating them with respect, and allowing them to take responsibility for their actions will support and increase their sense of self worth.
  • Give them the help they want.  If they don’t want you to buy them certain foods for a time, not to ask parents/friends to visit etc, respect this.  Don’t “know better” than them.
  • Learn everything you can about eating disorders,  the more you know the more you can understand.  Understanding is a key to coping.  We have a list of books that you may find helpful.
  • It is vital that you care for yourself when giving support to others.  Seek some outside support, find a family member, friend or support group where you can talk about your feelings and frustrations.  Most importantly, continue to have your own life and do the things that matter to you.

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