This section is for family and friends who want to support someone with an eating problem.
You may feel very worried if you think that someone you care about has an eating problem. It may feel difficult to know how to talk to them about it. You might have already tried to offer support, but found that the person you’re worried about is unwilling or unable to accept help. This can make you feel powerless.
In fact there are lots of helpful things you can do:
- One of the most important things you can do is let the person you’re worried about know that you’re there, you’re listening and that you can help them find support. Let the person know they can talk to you when they are ready.
- Try not to make assumptions. People sometimes think that eating problemshappen for certain reasons, like having been abused, or trying to stop the body developing during puberty or reasons to do with body image. But if you interpret someone’s eating problems in a particular way – without really listening to the person themselves – it could add to their feeling of being out of control. It could make them less able to share their emotions.
- Understand that the person you’re worried about might not see their eating as a problem. They may actually view it as a solution to coping with feelings of rage, loss, powerlessness, self-hatred and guilt.
- Don’t try to persuade the person to change their behaviour. This could make them feel under threat, and may make them hide their eating problem. For example, trying to persuade someone to gain weight may make them feel afraid that they will be forced to eat. This could make them withdraw from you or try to convince you they are eating even if they are not.
- Encourage them to seek professional help, such as counselling or their GP. If they are worried about doing this, you could offer to go along with them.
- Help the person find good information – this could include looking for online support while helping the person avoid websites or forums that could promote unsafe eating and exercise habits.
- Include the person in social activities. If the person you are worried about finds it difficult to eat, organise activities which don’t include food.
If the person you are worried about is a member of your family, you may want to consider family therapy. This means working through issues as a family with the support of a therapist. This may help you work out how to communicate with and support someone in your family who has an eating problem. You can find a family therapist by asking your GP for a referral, or looking for a therapist through the Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice website.