How to help someone with an eating disorder

An eating disorder is a complex mental health condition where an individual utilises control of food to cope with negative feelings, often associated with body image. This condition affects 1 in 50 people in the UK of all ages and genders. Although often diagnosed in teenagers and young adults, the first signs can sometimes develop at a much younger age. The condition is often very hard to diagnose in children as they present differently than in older individuals.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week aims to shine a spotlight on eating disorders. Many eating disorders can be hard to recognise as the signs are not widely known. This can lead to people struggling with eating disorders going without help both from those close to them and from experts.

Someone with an eating disorder requires medical and psychological help, however, support from friends and loved ones is also highly important.

How can you recognise the signs of an eating disorder?

Stereotypes around eating disorders have made them harder to identify. Stereotypes suggest the primary way to identify an eating disorder is weight loss, however, 85% of people with eating disorders are not underweight. The way eating disorders present can vary significantly from person to person which is why this mental health condition can be so difficult to identify.

Aside from weight, some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Frequent comments about weight, food, and size
  • Secretive about eating habits
  • Reluctance to eat with others
  • Toilet visits straight after eating

How can you support someone with an eating disorder?

If you are worried that someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder you may wish to raise this issue with them. This can be a difficult situation if you don’t fully understand the condition or how to talk to someone effectively about their mental health.

Utilise good information sources

Informing yourself before entering into this conversation can help you think more about what you wish to say and how to begin this dialogue most effectively. Utilising good information sources will help you better understand eating disorders and the steps that need to be taken to help someone with the condition. This could also provide you with stories and testimonials from other individuals who have struggled with an eating disorder to show the individual you are supporting that they are not alone and there is help available.

Create a calming atmosphere

Find a private space where you can offer support without being disturbed or making the individual feel uncomfortable or anxious. Eating disorders often stem from feelings of anxiety and a lack of control. Providing a safe and inviting environment will create a calming atmosphere where you can offer support. Simply showing them you are there and providing a space to talk and listen can have a positive impact on an individual struggling with an eating disorder.

Avoid anger and judgement

Eating disorders are closely linked to emotions and therefore avoiding anger or judgement is very important when offering support. Ensure you remain calm and simply provide unbiased comfort. Avoiding bringing up these conversations around mealtimes can help remove some negative feelings from the individual you are trying to support.

Seek medical help

An eating disorder is a complex mental health condition and therefore patience is extremely important when helping someone with this condition. Offering mental and physical support can be highly effective methods of offering help, however, professional support is often necessary, and recovery can be a long process. Seeking medical support quickly, such as visiting a GP, can be highly beneficial for recovery.

Avoid conversations around body image

Eating disorders are often associated with body image and control. Avoid commenting on their appearance or body image as this is often an area of sensitivity and can negatively impact the progression of your conversation. Equally, try to limit situations where this individual may feel uncomfortable around their appearance and body image during both social and private situations.

Eating disorders can often be hard to recognise in both children and adults. Having individuals trained on eating disorders within schools and workplaces can be very beneficial in helping diagnose and support people sooner rather than later.

Do you want to learn more about what eating disorders are and how they affect people? Take our understanding eating disorders course to gain a strong understanding of how eating disorders can be treated and how you can support someone struggling with this mental health condition.

All funds raised from our training courses go into our #Headucation campaign to train teachers to support children and young people with common mental health conditions, like eating disorders, at a young age to prevent further issues when they’re older.

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