I get lots of people coming to me asking about advice on eating disorders, and in all truth, I’ve never had one. I try only to give advice on matters I have myself experienced, but with everyone asking I’m going to give this my best shot. I’m not going to tell you how to fix an eating disorder, because I don’t have the experience, but I’m going to tell you how to try and help your friends and peers if they are suffering.
From what I gather, eating disorders are very secretive, and it’s not purely because young teenagers are constantly surrounded by images of stick-thin models. Rather, the reason for an ED is usually far more complex than that. It is, in some ways, a form of self-harm. It is a way to control an aspect of your life when you feel everything else is uncontrollable; it is not just about being ‘skinny’.
Knowing I was going to write this blog, I asked a friend of mine (who has, and is suffering from an eating disorder) how she would like people to approach the topic. She said that she didn’t like people to tell her she was looking skinny, this, in turn, making her obsess more and more about her weight, and she also did not feel comfortable when people pressured her to eat. An eating disorder is not just about the physical act of eating, and sitting someone who is suffering down in front of a massive plate of food is not going to fix the problem. Eating disorders are a psychological illness and not just someone being attention-seeking.
Although I wouldn’t classify myself as ever having had an eating disorder, my relationship with food is either all or nothing. When I was at my lowest I hardly ate, not because I was conscious about my weight, but purely because of the fact that I didn’t want to eat and didn’t feel like it. It was a form of self-punishment and something that I could control when everything around me was uncontrollable. During my time in hospital, myself, along with many other people I have met, made ourselves sick. I only found out others did this once I had left. After speaking to them, all of us did it for similar reasons, we couldn’t control what we were eating, or when we were eating, so that was the only slight bit of control we were able to grasp at. It was only in these extreme, stressful situations that I turned (quite unconsciously) to that resort.
I’ve been with lots of friends when they have been suffering an eating disorder, and in my opinion, the best thing to do is to mention it as little as possible. If your friend feels comfortable talking about it, then assure them you are there to talk but when they start to feel uncomfortable don’t push the matter. It can make them feel worse and guilty and could potentially make their issue worse. If you are really concerned about someone, tell someone you trust, or tell the person that you are worried. When friends of mine have been suffering with eating disorders I do keep an eye on what they are eating, and if I am concerned, I tell them. You need to be able to confront friends on issues like this, but there is a very fine line between the person thinking that you are concerned or them thinking that you are judging them. Depending on the friend you need to judge that line yourself.
When people aren’t having a balanced diet I always try and convince them to take vitamins, at least then they are getting some good in their body. It’s very daunting to sit down in front of a ton of food and being pressured into eating it. With me when this happened, after the meal I would go and be sick, and many people I know would too.
I hope this has helped in some ways; tweet me, leave a comment or email me.