How to Help Your Friend or Sister Who Has an Eating Disorder


This heartbreaking question comes in often: "How can I help someone I love, my sister, my friend, recover from an eating disorder?  

Some suggestions:

One of the best ways you can help is to live a healthy life yourself.  Let her see you have a healthy attitude toward food.  Let her see you honor your values and pursue your heart's desire.  Let her see you say "no" to what is not good for you and "yes" to what is not. Invite her to healthy and normal social and cultural events with no special consideration for her eating issues.  Let her discover the healthy forces within her that will help her develop and rise to the occasion if she can.

Always support the health in her and do not support the eating disorder behavior or thinking.

Do not accept and carry secrets for her.

Let her know you love her, even if she doesn't believe it when you don't cater to her eating disorder thinking. She may not believe your words at such times, but she will believe you when you keep showing up for her with no recriminations.

I'm a psychotherapist in Los Angeles and have been specializing in working with adults with eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, compulsive eating) for almost thirty years.  In our private work patients are surprised that the therapy is not what they expected or feared.  It's about their developing within them what has been neglected for a long time, maybe many years.  When they learn to recognize their true yearnings and desires and make steps toward honoring their authentic self, their authentic self emerges with more health and durability. The energy that went into the eating disorder pulls out of destructive behaviors and flows into their lives in creative and beautiful ways.  

Eventually their lives are dedicated to living well. The eating disorder fades to nothing.  Yes, body issues, self doubts, anxieties and worries will occur as they do to all of us.  But with new strength and a more matured psyche, the person now recovered addresses them in a healthy way and knows that the feelings will pass.

If you love someone with an eating disorder, what are your challenges and how do you meet them?
If you have an eating disorder, what do you find helpful from others?


0 # As someone with an ED, I don't know if IPTC 2010-08-16 15:26

As someone with an ED, I don't know if I would feel comfortable being with a bunch of "normal/healthy" people at an event that involved food.

Well, that's not totally correct, I (personally) am okay with it, but if my ED was really bad I can imagine that being around people eating and feeling like I had to eat would be very anxiety provoking.

I guess I still get that a little because I hate when I feel like I have to eat.

I'm not really sure what i find helpful from others. Not many people know about my ED so I guess they don't act differently towards me.

What I do NOT find helpful (from everyone), are the comments about what I'm eating

or, the one that's really bad is, "you're eating that!!!," if I choose to have something I don't usually eat, like dessert.

Then I feel like I shouldn't be eating it and that I'm only supposed to be eating lettuce.

0 # You raise the healing consideration immepinkjoanna 2010-08-16 20:58
You raise the healing consideration immediately!

If you are living in the thick of an eating disorder, you will not be comfortable in a socially acceptable eating situation. Your challenge is to face those uncomfortable feelings. When you stretch yourself to tolerate whatever you feel for as long as you can while you are in a "normal" eating situation you are moving against the rules of your eating disorder. You strengthen your ability to live a normal life.

Just a little bit at a time is fine. If the people in your life work to make you "comfortable" that means they will be catering to your eating disorder. Commenting on what you eat is intrusive. But including you in normal events and expecting you to behave in a socially acceptable and gracious way shows their respect for you. It also gives you an opportunity to rise to the occasion.
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