I’ve not mentioned my eating disorder for a while because thankfully it has taken a bit of a backseat in my life (with a whole lot of will power and therapy).
But it is still lurking which made me think of the challenges faced by those with a variety of eating disorders as we come to Easter Sunday.
Yes it’s a religious holiday but there’s no getting away from the copious amounts of chocolate Easter now involves.
It’s almost like my anorexic side would love lent and my bulimic side would crave for the bingeing and purging come Easter Sunday.
So what do you do/say to someone struggling with an Eating Disorder (Binge-eating, emotional eating, anorexia, bulimia and anyone who has a fight with food)?
Here are my top tips to help when dealing with someone with an eating disorder:
1. Most people with EDs eat and drink something. Otherwise they’d be dead. So try not to look shocked if they do or don’t eat.
2. Be normal around food. I often get (especially when I’m being strong an loosening some of my rules): “Oh you won’t want this” or “I didn’t think you’d want to eat that.” There’s nothing more distressing than reminding someone of their “yes” and “no” foods. And it can really hinder someone if you focus too much on food. Plus there’s nothing worse that someone making you eat a trigger food. Whilst it may please the carer, as a sufferer, it can cause weeks of turmoil.
I know it’s so hard but just be as casual and normal as you can because most EDs aren’t actually about food – it’s a mental illness. I’d even say an addiction but sadly you have to tackle food at some point you can’t avoid it like alcohol.
3. Don’t assume just offer food/drink as usual. Every person with an ED has their own habits and behaviours and rules. We (patients) used to laugh in ED groups when it was “break time.” And the person hosting would be trying to avoid using the words “tea/coffee” “biscuits…”
Don’t assume. Just offer.
4. Try not to force food and drink down someone let them make the decision. And yes, sadly often it’s the ED making it, and this must be painful to witness. But it may fracture your relationship with the sufferer. Try to stay calm and relaxed around them.
5. If their eating disorder is controlling them, they obviously need help. But often that help is better from a professional than the close ones around them. All you can do is support and assist them to getting the help they need.
6. Having an eating disorder is very lonely so do encourage them to get out of the house and do something positive. But again don’t force them if they’re not ready.
7. If you would’ve bought them an Easter egg before the ED, do so again, unless they ask that you don’t. And if not, look at ways you can treat them without food being the focus. It can feel embarrassing if everyone’s getting chocolate eggs bar them because they’re the “Ill” one. Whilst you know why people are acting like that, it hurts to see it so blatantly obvious.
8. Make adjustments: if someone with an ED has said they don’t want X, Y & Z for dinner/snack etc. Please just respect that because if you don’t you’re likely to put extra stress on that person at meal times and nobody wants to eat when they feel uncomfortable or feel they are being watched.
9. Tough love won’t cut it. If someone’s physical health has been altered by an ED (overweight, underweight, spotty, yellow teeth, hair loss or growth etc) don’t point it out. “Urgh you look so skinny/fat.” “Stop eating fatty/Eat more skinny.” “Look what you’re doing to yourself/your family/your kids.” I know from my own experience that most people with EDs have very low self-esteem. It’s a form of self-harm, so they/I definitely don’t need to be told off.
Having horrid comments would push me deeper into the dark grasp of the ED.
10. Talking: Often people want to solve one another’s problems. But everyone with a mental health issue is an individual. So some people find talking a therapy, some writing, some exercise and others struggle to find anything – so just ask softly: “is there anything I can do to help you feel better about yourself?” Try not to judge.
And call somewhere like b-eat the national eating disorders charity for advice. Sadly you can’t just fix these insidious diseases.
So make sure you and they get support.
And finally, focus on their passions and their positives, remind them why they deserve to live and love.