GUEST BLOG POST: Azura Goodman
How to approach a loved one who you believe is suffering from disordered eating that is significantly affecting their life.
(if the loved one approaches you skip STEP ONE and STEP TWO)
(if you’re truly concerned that your loved one is medically unstable, or your loved one has mentioned thoughts of suicide, has a suicide plan, or has revealed that they are self-harming in a life-threatening way skip all steps and consider asking the loved one if you can accompany them to to their physician, or local emergency room. Don’t take a suicide threat lightly, ever. Call an ambulance if you have to. Majorly sucks to have to have to do this—might seem extreme, but losing your loved one is more extreme than dialing 9-1-1 erroneously.)
STEP ONE: Don’t jump to conclusions, ensure that there is a reason to approach based on observing a pattern over time Generally you don’t have to go hunting for clues, disordered eating is revealed in patterns over time that become harder and harder for the sufferer to hide. Generally those suffering from EDs are hyper-vigilant and notice everything. If you go hunting for clues, your loved one will be hunting for you hunting for clues. Ya feel me? Don’t invade your loved one’s privacy or try and catch them in the act of restricting, bingeing or purging.
If you notice a large amount of food disappearing in the evenings over time, have seen vomit on the underside of a toilet seat over time, noticed your loved one’s weight consistently dropping, have a loved one who refuses food-related gatherings despite being able to afford the luxury many times, your loved one is slowly disconnecting from friends and family and spending a great deal of time alone over time, manically recording everything they eat over time, etc. then there is generally reason for concern.
All this to say, don’t look at one isolated weird food-related behavior and assume someone has an eating disorder.
STEP TWO: choose an appropriate time and place to bring the topic up The chat shouldn’t take place off to the side at a party, at a restaurant, etc. Keep this convo as private as possible. I wouldn’t recommend approaching your loved one as a group of concerned friends/family, that sounds horrifying.
STEP THREE: don’t be drunk Both parties’ mental faculties should be free from the influence of drugs or alcohol for the chat. It shows that you are taking the topic seriously and that you aren’t speaking to your loved one on a whim.
STEP FOUR: Stay strong for your pal Try to be their rock here. Your ideal is to appear steady and prepared when to offer support. If you don’t think you’re ready to keep
your cool during the conversation, wait and approach them when you do feel prepared. Trust me, being solid here (or even feigning strength) will help your loved one comprehend and believe that you’re strong enough to support them with regards to their food issues.
STEP FIVE: Keep to specific concerns—try not to label your loved one’s entire self as disordered, or all of their behaviors around food as disordered. Focus on specific behaviors that concern you. Approach your loved-one after thoughtful consideration about what you’re specifically worried about.
STEP SIX: make it about them If possible, try not to cry or make the conversation be about your concern and how it’s been causing you distress. Keep the focus on your loved one and their health/safety or they may walk away with the heaviness of guilt for having caused someone close to them to worry so much. They might even distance themselves from you to prevent causing you any additional pain.
STEP SEVEN: give them the floor to talk about anything, related or unrelated to the topic broached
STEP EIGHT: Let ‘em go If the person feels the need to suddenly leave, regardless of you encouraging them to stay, let them go. They will know that you’re there for them if/when they are ready to accept the help.
WHAT’LL PROBABLY HAPPEN
This can go one of three ways
A. Your loved one will respond with anger and disbelief because you’ve revealed and potentially threatened to begin the process of helping them cut out a seemingly very, very precious element of their life.
B. They will affirm your concern.
C. They will be confused because your perception was incorrect.
If you get answer A. then accept it. They aren’t ready and a constant push from you isn’t going to get them their any faster, but it will most likely cause the loved one to push you away. Encourage your loved one to get a physical at their MD’s or NP’s office. Accept that you tried your best and there isn’t much that you can do to help your loved one at this time.
If you get answer B. then meet your loved one where they’re at, meaning ask straight up “how do you think I could be helpful?” explain that you don’t necessarily mean hooking that person up with supports but just being available to talk to, want to arrange regular hang or be there to text back and forth with when they are severely anxious, etc.
If you get answer C. Woops.
GOOD LUCK, you’re a good pal for caring.