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Eating disorders 2: Coping


Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, advises the National Institute of Mental Health. Having an eating disorder often goes hand-in-hand with some other problem, such as anxiety disorders, depression or substance abuse. Perfectionism and frail self-esteem are struggles. A strong support team is important for the person who is struggling for control.

            There are ways to talk with someone who has an eating disorder, and there are ways not to talk to them. The goals should not be to try to shame a person into eating, not to tell her what she needs to do, but rather to focus on the relationship, creating a closer bond, perhaps saying, “Please, help me to understand.” Separate the person from the disorder. Note the efforts that the person is making to eat healthy and not harm herself.

            That’s a pretty tall order: Help but don’t say the wrong things. You don’t want to trigger an event. You want to get it right and truly help your friend. It’s important for you to provide a safe place for the person to be able to talk and you listen. It is important that you educate yourself so you can be a strong part of the person’s support system, that you understand the fine lines and where they are.

            Sovereign Health’s publication, “The Unbearable Weight” advises that you might support her with the following ideas:

  • Praise constructive effort.
  • Focus on feelings and relationships, not food and weight.
  • Concerns should be about health, not appearance.
  • Don’t offer “simple” solutions.
  • Be patient as they work through the process.
  • Promote self-esteem by encouraging them to pursue what they are good at.
  • Encourage healthy coping with the triggers they struggle with, like anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-loathing and stress.

            For the person with an eating disorder, a food journal can help in many ways. It isn’t just a place to list what is eaten. Trigger foods can be identified. It is a place to write down disjointed thoughts and question what is really going on with the individual. What is causing such stress? What questions need to be answered? What feelings need to be explored? Also, this is a place to list accomplishments. It may be as simple as making someone smile a real smile because you have brought some joy to them.

            There are times when emergency treatment may be needed. Always be prepared with telephone numbers for emergency assistance and know where the closest emergency room is and how to get there. Know when immediate emergency medical care is needed.

            Nobody ever said life is easy. There is nothing easy about eating disorders. But with solid relationships and the right help, your family will get through this.

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