Helping someone with an Eating Disorder

I’m going to start this off with a bit of a disclaimer. 

I am not a professional, I am not a doctor, I am not a therapist or anyone who is qualified in eating disorders. However, I am someone who suffers from one. What I’m going to be talking about today are the things I have come across with my own recover and my own frustrations with the people who have been kind enough to help. I am, however, going to put some links bellow to some trusted websites where you can get professional advice of how to support someone with an eating disorder at the end of this post.


October marks a year since I was officially told I had anorexia.

The past year has been full of half-hearted attempt of recovery, relapse, laughter and tears.

Usually when I talk about my recovery I aim my posts to those who might also be suffering themselves with an eating disorder. Today though is a little different.

I want to talk to those who are helping someone with an ED.

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I’ve had some amazing people walk along side me during this year. Throughout it all they’ve been there. However, there are somethings people have done that are counter productive.

There are a lot of resources that tell you things TO DO when helping someone with an ED but very little on the small niggly things that can be the straw that breaks the camels back.

So bellow are my peeves and fustrations that I’ve come across in my year of recovery. It’s not an inclusive list but I hope it can shed some light on how to help someone a little better.

I hope it helps.


It’s not about you.

I love helping people, if you ever need someone to talk to please message me.

But if you’re helping someone with an ED, please don’t be offended when I say It’s not about you. 

One thing that really makes things worse is when you’re opening up to someone and they make it all about them.

I’ve had people say to me I was thinner than you when I was your age or When I was younger I had writs smaller than you do or even Well I used to weigh Xkg.

Please do NOT do this!

Even something that you belive might help them, for example saying “You’re not fat, I weigh X amount more that you.” doesn’t help, I’m sorry.

I can understand it you’re just trying to relate to them, to make them feel less alone but please stop. If you have perviously had a ED and are recovered cool, let them know what helped, but don’ make it about you. Don’t make them feel bad and for crying out loud don’t tell them what you weight. Eating disorders are the most competitive mental illness going, we will turn it into a competition unintentionally.

If someone feels confident enough to open up to you about their struggles, be honoured. It takes a lot of trust in you for them to do that. Please don’t break their trust by using it as a opetunity to make it all about you.

Junk food.

Ugh, junk food.

I used to love the stuff and chances are you do too.

But notice how I said I used to love it?

You’re going to want to offer the person you’re supporting all the junk food possible. If they’ve been struggling for a long time chances are they’ve lost weight and all you want to do is give them fatty sweet food to try and get them to put weight on fast and I don’t blame you.

But if you give someone with anorexia a doughnut they’re probably not going to eat it.

You think you’re being kind giving them sugary food but you’re not. I’m sorry.

Try offering them healthy food instead.

One of my friends used to offer me a chocolate bar everyday and I’d always refuse it. There was no way I was putting something with that many calories into my body. However, I had a friend who used to bring in almonds to college almost everyday and she’d offer me them. Want to know something awesome? when I felt able to, I’d eat them. I saw no harm in eating an almond, so I’d have one. A few weeks later I felt able to eat two or three. When I was eating more this friend would every now and then offer me half of their GoAhead bar and I would eat it. In the next few weeks I began to feel able to eat a full bar to myself, but I’d still decline the chocolate bar.

It was a slow process but in the end I was beginning to have snacks at college, as long as they were healthy.

Try healthy food first, healthy snacks. I’m not saying that they’re going to start eating suddenly just because you’ve offered them a strawberry. But they’re more likely to eat something healthy than a doughnut or a chocolate bar.

Give them time before you buy them a doughnut.

Tough love?

My opinion on tough love?

It’s the wrong approach.

There might be a time when you have to put your foot down and be firm with them. I fully appreciate and understand this. But don’t use it all the time.

Don’t shout at them for not eating, don’t take away their privileges, don’t be horrible.

Last winter when it was bitterly cold and we had no heating I slept without a blanket because I felt like I didn’t deserve one.

When it’s raining I didn’t wear a coat and got cold and wet because I felt that I didn’t deserve to wear a coat.

I’ve denied myself from going to see my Doctor before because I felt that I didn’t deserve it.

I didn’t deserve food.

I didn’t deserve love.

I didn’t deserve kindness.

I didn’t deserve God.

Notice the pattern?

How is you shouting at them going to make them belive they deserve love? How is you threatening them going to make them feel that they deserve kindness? How is being horrible going to make them feel like they deserve recovery?

They hate themselves enough as it is, don’t add to it.

Diet talk.

An eating disorder is not a diet, it is not a fad, it is not a sign of vanity and it is not a form of seeking attention.

It is a lethal mental illness.

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In the past I’ve ‘gave in’ and ordered food with my friends. I’ve ordered the healthiest thing on the menu and sat down. I’d only been sat down for a few seconds when one of them starts talking about the diet that they’re on. They’d tell me about how many calories that they’ve eaten today, how fattening the food is. It wasn’t too long till two other pipped up and started talking about their past diets.

I didn’t eat anymore of my food, I don’ think I ate anything else that day.

I’m not saying that you can’t talk about food round someone with an ED, what I’m saying is that diet talk is very triggering and that you need to be considerate.

It’s like smoking. Say you’re wanting to quit smoking, you’ve done great so far and haven’t touched a cigarette in a week. You decide you’re going to go out with your friends and catch up with them all. You’re all waiting at a bus stop and one pulls out a cigaret from their pocket and lights it up. You’ll immediately want a cigarett won’t you? It doesn’t matter that you’re trying to stop, you know it’s bad for you, but you can’t help but crave one.

The same goes with diet talk. It’s as triggering as a cigarette to someone who is trying to quit smoking.

Another thing is DO NOT ASK THEM FOR DIET ADVICE! It’s really insulting.

How are you?

“How are you?”

Fellow Britts you will know my frustrations with this question. I think it’s some unspoken law that in the UK when someone asks you “How are you?” you have to answer with “I’m fine thanks.”

Maybe it’s just the UK that does this, maybe it’s global, I don’t know.

The point is that it’s rare this question is answered honestly. Sure, there are people in my life who I know will ask me this question and mean it, my mum and boyfriend being pretty good examples. But let’s be real. People don’t answer this question honestly.

There has been times where I’ve been asked how I am and the first thing that comes to mind is

“I’m feeling crap, I want to rip my skin off, I am a fat whale of a b*tch and I am done with life”

Of course I didn’t say this out loud, my reply was

“I’m fine thanks, how are you?”

You can’t make someone tell you how they are. But you can give them the opportunity to speak, and no, simply asking how they are doesn’t count. Sit down with a cupa, walk the dog together, do something that gives you the time to invest into a full honest conversation. There’s no certinty they’ll want to talk about their ED but spending quality time with someone is never wasted time.

Talking about it and knowing that someone is bothered about you go a long way in reducing the isolation that an ED can bring.

You can not make them recover

I’m sorry, it’s painful but true.

You can’t make them recover, you can only love them.

You can’t make thedecision  for them, but you an decide to walk with them.

You can decide to care for them

You can decide to be patient with them.

You can decide to hold them.

Recovery is a decision , it’s a hard one. I’m only just starting the road of true recovery, of real recovery. But it’s not your decision to make.

Look after yourself.

So lets talk about you.

People with big hearts tend to suffer the most damage. The closer you get to someone who is hurting, the more likely you are to get hurt by them.

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From Pinterset

I think that sums it up pretty well.

You want to help them right?

You’re going to be no use to them is you are tired, worn down and cranky. If anything, if you’re that worn down chances are you could snap at them unintentionally and undo any good work or progress you’ve made together.

Take care of yourself.

Give yourself time out.

Talk to someone if needed.

Keep you safe and ok.

Thank you. 

And finally, Thank You!

Thank you for helping someone, thank you for walking along side them, for being a shoulder to cry on.

You’re playing a big part in their recovery and potentially saving their life. Remember, it is a potentially lethal illness.

So I just want to say thank you.

Who ever you’re helping might not be in the position to thank you right now. They might not even recognise what you’re doing for them. But carry on in the hope that one day they will look back with thanks as they realise how you’ve walked with them every step of the way.

They might not be able to say thank you, but I can.

You’re an amazing, inspiring, kind-hearted person. You’re the type of person that gives me a glimpse of hope in the madness of this world. So THANK YOU!

Useful links

I’m not a professional or qualified in eating disorders, but these guys are. If you need some more information check out these websites.

Beat – https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/recovery-information/supporting-somebody

Tastelife– http://www.tastelifeuk.org/get-help/concerned-for-someone/is-recovery-possible/

NEDA– https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/parent-family-friends-network

ABC– http://www.anorexiabulimiacare.org.uk/family-and-friends

2 thoughts on “Helping someone with an Eating Disorder

  1. Thank you for sharing! I have never struggled with an eating disorder, but I do suffer from other mental illnesses, and know how hard it can be to admit to one. I pray your journey continues to bless others! 🙂

    Like

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