I am often asked, "I have a friend who I suspect may have an eating disorder, how can I help them?"
Your first inclination may be to feed them, take them out to eat, force food down their throats, etc. Yes, that is an important aspect to helping them but what they are really looking for is Love.
Unconditional love is the ultimate healer to someone suffering.
I get it. I know its hard to truly love this person when they hate themselves so much that they would starve themselves, purge their food, isolate from you, lash out as a defense mechanism, etc.
I can only speak from experience what I think may help and what I have observed being around other eating disorder patients that could change your loved one's life.
What are you to do if you know someone is battling an eating disorder?
1. Be there. This loved one of yours is in so much pain inside that she/he is hurting her/himself on the outside too. Be present with them. If they talk, don't become the fixer. Become the listener. Listen with a kind compassionate heart. You may not understand why they feel so low or why they won't eat but you have compassion and love for them so just be there. Show them you have faith in them! Reassure them they will find love, peace, vigor for life again. Ask them, how can I help? What would make them feel better?
2. Do not focus on the food. I repeat, do not focus on the food. Try not to be too watchful of your friend's eating habits, food amounts, and choices. Do not stare. Do not lecture or judge what they are eating. They will feel judged and attacked. I know this sounds complicated but eating disorders are extremely complicated. Take the focus off food and talk about other cool things. Plan a trip somewhere fun with them as you eat. Rearrange their bedroom after the meal. Value their spirit and what they love.
2. Figure out what they love to do and do it with them. What was one of their hobbies before they spiraled down? Paint pottery? Go get a pedicure? Go see a movie? Take a short walk? Take the focus off food and exercise and spend time with them. Quality time. I think this is the biggest key to helping your pal. Show them they matter and you value the relationship. Show them too that they are fun and you enjoy doing fun things together.
3. Don't take anything personally. This person is in the battle of their life. Their thoughts are mostly negative about themselves. If they shut you out or call you names, its not about you. They are saying these things to you because this how they really feel about themselves.
4. Hug. I remember specifically people saying they just couldn't hug me when I was severely underweight. That broke my heart into tiny little pieces because that's all I wanted was a hug. I wanted someone to take me in their arms and say, "you are gonna be okay, I love you." I was also told when I hugged, I hugged really hard and people were turned off by that. I was so desperate for love, I wanted to feel it and never let go. No matter how painful it may feel to hug your emaciated friend, do it. They absolutely, positively need to know they are supported, loved, and cared for. Physical touch is necessary.
5. Take care of you. This may sound odd but you must take care of you too. This disease can be time consuming and painful to your entire family and network of friends. Call someone. See a therapist. You need support too. Its hard to see your loved one so deeply hurt and struggling. Make sure to nurture your soul and seek support from people who care for you too.
6. Tough love. If the disease seems to be progressing and you have done all the listening, consoling, and praying you can possibly do...call your doctor, therapist, inpatient/outpatient eating disorder center and get the patient in as soon as possible I can pretty much guarantee your loved one will go in kicking and screaming but the problem is just too big for you to handle. Its not a funk they are in anymore. They are fighting for their life. They are slowly killing themselves. Be prepared for your friend to be angry at you. The eating disorder has clouded their reality and until they get help to manage their mind, they wont simply see that you are only trying to help. Let any guilt subside, you are really doing the best thing for them.
You are a gem to the person hurting. Stay strong for them. It may be hard because, of course, you have your own life too. Make sure to not let this become your life. I promise you, they value your love as if their life depends on it. Because you know what it? It does.
Be the beacon of hope and light for them. They will never ever forget what you did for them as they recover. Stay strong. Thank you for all you continue to do.
Love and Light,