An eating disorder can be a long, lonely and dangerous road to walk. Of all the mental health disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate (Herstich, 2018; Scott, 2018). Like many other mental health disorders, it is not well understood by the general public, resulting in well-intentioned but often unhelpful remarks to the ill.
There are many common misconceptions about eating disorders. One misconception is the idea that only young women suffer from them. The fact is anyone can suffer from an eating disorder, male or female, young or old (Scott, 2018). Another misunderstanding is that one must be extremely thin to have an eating disorder. But really, it’s the behaviors that determine the disorder more than the appearance. A person can lose a lot of weight and still be in the healthy BMI range while demonstrating disordered eating (Scott, 2018). Some think that eating disorders are about getting attention, but it’s actually quite the opposite. People with eating disorders tend to isolate themselves and try to hide their struggles (Scott, 2018).
Spotting an eating disorder in another person can be very difficult. Others often praise many for the outcome of their unhealthy behaviors. They say it takes dedication to exercise so much; it takes strong willpower to restrict food intake (Herstich, 2018). Dedication and a strong will are good things, but too much of a good thing is never beneficial. Early detection and intervention is the key to help people recover (Herstich, 2018; Scott, 2018).
Here are some signs to watch out for:
- One sign is strict rituals or behaviors around food or meal times. This can include only eating low calorie foods, focusing only on one food group or safe foods and talking about their own bad eating behavior (Herstich, 2018). There is also an inability to stray from any ritual or plan. This can also be seen around exercise (Herstich, 2018).
- Another sign to watch for is social isolation. A person struggling with an eating disorder tends to deal with the disorder in private (Scott, 2018). He or she avoids social gathering where food is involved or always times arrival to avoid food (Herstich, 2018). Exercise may be used as an excuse to avoid social gatherings as well.
- Obsession about weight or size may be a sign for some people (Herstich, 2018). Conversations might focus on the next diet or how they regret eating bad foods. Others would argue, though, that eating disorders are more about control than about weight or size (Scott, 2018).
- Some people with eating disorders begin to wear baggy clothes to hide their weight loss (Scott, 2018). Other signs can be a missed period in females, digestive problems or purging activities.
If someone opens up about their struggle with food it is not an attempt to gain attention. More often than not, it is a cry for help. Knowing what to do to help someone with an eating disorder can be difficult. Support from family and friends is very important for someone trying to recover from an eating disorder. Giving support is all about the other person. It requires putting aside personal feelings for a time and understanding where the other person is coming from.
When helping someone cope with an eating disorder, it’s a good idea to bottle up any emotional response; save those for a third party to hear (Mulhern, 2018). Emotional responses tend to be gut reactions and don’t give the other person a solid crutch to lean on. If the person opens up, listen without judgment (Mulhern, 2018). Validate the courage and bravery it took them to open up about his or her struggles with eating (Scott, 2018). Another very important part of giving support to someone is to be there for him or her for big and small events. People giving support should be careful of the language used. Avoid complimenting body image or looks or playing down the seriousness of the situation (Scott, 2018). Support shouldn’t stop once the individual gains weight or begins eating normally again; it should extend beyond this (Scott, 2018). Eating disorder effect the person’s whole life and it can take time to change everything. Often individuals recovering from an eating disorder struggle to re-enter the work or school force. They struggle with low self-confidence and re-engaging in social activities (Scott, 2018).
Also remember to encourage those with eating disorders to seek professional help. Support from family and friends is always helpful but noting will benefit a loved one that is suffering like a trained professional who is taught the best ways to assist in the healing process of their patients.
With continued support and the incorporation of proper healing training those suffering from an eating disorder have a greater chance of lasting recovery.
Herstich, S. (2018, Jan 15,). 4 warning signs of an eating disorder. Huff Post Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/4-warning-signs-of-an-eating-disorder_us_5a5bb68ae4b0a233482e0ca5
Mulhern, S. (2018). Helping a loved one cope with a mental health diagnosis.
Scott, M. (2018). Supporting patient with eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nursinginpractice.com/article/supporting-patients-eating-disorders