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15 Things To Remember When You Love A Person With an Eating Disorder

15 Things To Remember When You Love A Person With an Eating Disorder

I met my friend, “Maria,” (not her real name) in high school.  She was beautiful, sweet, and I enjoyed spending time with her.  One time the I didn’t see Maria, however, was at lunch time.  She was very thin, and I always suspected that food was an issue for her.

My suspicions were confirmed when Maria disappeared for three months, to enter an inpatient program at the hospital.  She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and felt very awkward about returning to school once she was discharged.

When she came back, she was still the same Maria that I had enjoyed spending time with.  But there were some things that we both had to learn.  I learned–through trial and error–how to be a good friend to someone with an eating disorder, and how to help Maria through her recovery.

Supporting someone with an eating disorder can be challenging, but it can make a huge difference in your loved one’s recovery.  Here are some things to remember if you love a person with an eating disorder:

1.  They may not be underweight.

According to this article in the Natural News, clinicians are beginning to notice a new eating disorder, called orthorexia, which is an obsession with eating the “right” foods.  People with orthorexia do not necessarily eat less, so they may be a healthy weight or even overweight.  So be understanding if a loved one has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and do not assume that they are not telling the truth about their diagnosis, just because they are not underweight.

Maria said that the worst thing for her was when people would tell her that there was no way she had anorexia, because she was not that thin.  This was when she was in recovery.  She was gaining the weight back, but she still had a number of issues to work through.  The weight comes back first, but there is still a lot for the person to work through once they have started gaining weight.

2.  They tend to avoid gatherings that center around food.

According to this article in NY Mag, people with eating disorders tend to show up to parties after the meal has been served, claiming that they have already eaten.  They may also suggest outings that do not involve food.  This is because eating is stressful for them, even if they are in recovery.  You can help by suggesting activities that do not involve food.  People with eating disorders tend to isolate themselves, and providing an opportunity to socialize without the focus being on food can be quite helpful.

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Maria avoided lunch for most of the time I knew her.  Even when she was in recovery, she preferred to eat in a teacher’s classroom.  I was respectful of this, and found a lot of fun, food-free activities for us to do after school.

3.  They may be very sensitive to comments about their appearance.

The National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders (ANAD) states that even well-intended compliments, such as, “You look really healthy now,” may be misinterpreted as meaning “you look fat.”  People with eating disorders are very self-conscious about their physical appearance, and many times when someone looks recovered, they still have a lot of recovery work to do.

Maria found it very triggering when people told her she didn’t “look” anorexic.  She said that she often felt competitive with other people who had eating disorders, trying to be the “best” anorexic.  These comments triggered those patterns of thinking and weren’t helpful to Maria in her recovery.

4.  They don’t need you to be a therapist.

ANAD cautions friends of people with eating disorders not to try and be that person’s therapist.  If your loved one has been diagnosed, they are likely working with a team of professionals to help them recover.  Your job is to be a caring friend.  Be supportive, but understand that your role is not to “solve” their problems.

This was something I learned through trial and error with Maria.  It wasn’t my job to make sure she ate enough.  We had an argument once, because I was asking her how much she was eating.  My job was to be her friend, as I had always been.

5.  They want you to know it’s about more than just food.

According to ANAD, eating disorders are about much more than just food, so telling your loved one to “just eat” is not going to solve the underlying issues.  There are many complex issues involved in eating disorders, and recovery can be a time-consuming process.  Be there for your friend, and be supportive and understanding.  Ask your friend how their day is going, and how they are feeling.  Don’t keep the conversation limited to food and eating.

This is why being Maria’s friend was so helpful.  While our interactions were not centered on food, Maria did confide in me about a lot of her fears and doubts.  Being able to have someone with a sympathetic ear there to listen to her helped her tremendously.

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6.  They may feel ashamed of their condition.

An article by Caltech states that people with eating disorders are often ashamed.  This can lead them to be very defensive about their eating and find conversations about food consumption to be very upsetting.  Understand this, and understand that they are working with professional to help them with their diet.  The role they need you to play is that of a supportive friend.

Coming home from the hospital was very awkward for Maria.  She was embarrassed that she had lacked to “willpower” to keep her condition under control. She was worried that seeking professional help meant she was “weak.”  Of course none of these were true.  Eating disorders are not about willpower, and it takes a great deal of strength and courage to seek help professionally.

7.  They will experience good days and bad days.

According to an article by NHS, recovery is a long and bumpy process.  Part of your loved one wants to get better, while another part is afraid to let go of the old habits.  Understand that not every day will be easy, and does not mean that your friend is not getting better or that they are backsliding.  Be there for them through the ups and downs.

This was something that surprised me with Maria.  Some days, she would seem very confident and even eat lunch with me.  Then the next day, she would be absent from school because she felt so challenged.  Recovery is a roller coaster, and being there for her and the good and bad days was very important.

8.  They may at times come across as angry or aggressive.

NHS states that this is because people with eating disorders are often fearful and insecure.  Learning to cope with and redefine these fears is a part of recovery, so be patient with your loved one.  Understand that it is not about you, and take care not to take it personally.

Maria would sometimes become angry and lash out at me for no reason at all.  Learning not to take this personally was an important lesson, and it helped me to be there for her when she calmed down and felt embarrassed about her outburst.

9.  They still want to be included.

According to the Butterfly Foundation, people with eating disorders may feel isolated and alone.  Even if they try to isolate themselves, continue to invite them to participate in the activities that they used to enjoy with you.  This can help them a great deal in their recovery.  Invite them, but don’t push it if they say “no.”  Just keep inviting.

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Anytime I went out with friends on the weekend, I invited Maria.  Sometimes she came, and sometimes she did not.  But later on she said that always being a part of the group and always having a place where she belonged was very helpful.

10.  They need you to set boundaries for yourself.

The Butterfly Foundation states that it is necessary for you to set the boundaries, as far as being supportive of your friend.  It is not possible for you to be on call 24/7, but when someone is lonely and struggling, it can be hard–if not impossible–for them to realize this.  It is not only perfectly fine for you to set boundaries for when and how long you are available, it is also helpful to your friend in the long run.  By taking care of yourself, you will be more able to be patient and understanding of your loved one.

11.  They likely learned their habits as children.

According to Eating Disorders Online, children are especially at risk.  One study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under 12 increased 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.

My friend Maria went on her first diet at age 10, and had her first hospitalization at age 16. She said a lot of her misunderstandings were learned in childhood.

12.  They want you to know that men can have eating disorders as well.

According to Eating Disorders Online, 20% of women and 10% of men will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.  That means 1/3 of eating disorder sufferers are male.

Maria did meat a surprising number of men while in treatment, and she said they encountered a great deal of misunderstanding, because they were not skinny women.

13.  They want you you to know that eating disorders kill.

Eating Disorders Online states that one in five people diagnosed with anorexia will die from the disorder.  People with anorexia are 50% more likely to die by suicide than people without the condition.

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Maria said that she did think of suicide, but she sought help right away.  This is not always the case though.  If your loved one seems depressed or talks about ending their own life, seek professional help immediately.

14.  They want you to know that there is not a lot of funding for treatment.

According to Eating Disorders Online, the government allocates 93 cents in research funding per eating disorder patient, while the average autistic person is designated $88.  So while it is getting more expensive to hospitalize an eating disorder patient, the money to pay for it is not there.

The important thing to remember from this is that your loved one might not be fully recovered when they are released from treatment.  There is a great deal of red tape, and they will need your support as they work their way through it.

15.  They want you to know that most people don’t get treatment.

Eating Disorders Online states that only one in ten people with eating disorders get treatment, due to insurance issues.  This is because eating disorders are hard to diagnose but also because healthcare laws largely consider eating disorder coverage to be non-essential.

Maria was lucky in this respect, but she knows that things would not have gone so well for her, had her family not had adequate insurance coverage.

Maria is now a healthy woman in her 30’s, happily married and the mother of two beautiful children.  She emphasizes that recovery is possible and that most people with eating disorders do eventually get better.

Eating disorders are challenging and often misunderstood.  By better understanding your loved one’s struggles and challenges, you will be a much-appreciated source of support for them in their recovery!

Featured photo credit: BFF/Flickr Creative Commons via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 15, 2019

41 Beautiful Pictures That Show What True Love Is All About

41 Beautiful Pictures That Show What True Love Is All About

Some things in life are hard to describe, yet we can recognize them when we see them.

Love is one of those things.

True love comes in many different forms, but here are some that many of us know well.

True love means supporting those who can’t support themselves

supportive couple

    A young man comforts his date in Times Square, New York City. Image by mbtrama

    strong hug

      A young man holds his significant other close to him. Image by Brad Fults

      running help

        A young track competitor helps one of her injured opponents over the finish line. Image from ViralNova.com

        feeding kitten

          A soldier in the Korean War takes time to feed a baby kitten. Image from US Naval Insititute

          It’s having the perfect selfie partner

          mom and daughter selfie

            A mother and her daughter take a selfie together. Image by Andrew Fysh

            girlfriends

              Two young girls pose for the camera. Image by Rolands Lakis

              selfies

                A happy couple takes a picture together. Image by Kayla Heineman

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                selfie

                  Two best friends take a selfie together. Image by Jason Wahido

                  dude selfie

                    Friends take a selfie together. Image by Glenn Scofield Williams

                    It’s all the warm fuzzies

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                      A young man spends time with his dog on a beach. Image by Magdalena Roeseler

                      DSC06952

                        A pet owner hugs his dog while on a day trip in San Francisco. Image by Taro the Shiba Inu

                        It means having a friend to photobomb you

                        photobomb

                          A boy makes a funny face as he poses for a picture with his brother. Image by Michael Bentley

                          old man photobomb

                            A man photobombs his wife while their grandson snaps a picture. Image by Frank

                            family photobomb

                              Family members photobomb their relatives’ Thanksgiving day family photo. Image by Beth Scupham

                              boyfriend photobomb

                                A friend photobombs the photographer and their friend, the woman in the foreground of this photo. Image by Lachlan Hardy

                                True love means being there even when life gets unbearably hard

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                                shoulder to cry on

                                  A family watches the Vermont National Guard depart for Afghanistan. Image by The U.S. Army

                                  flood dog

                                    During a monsoon in the Philippines, a boy carries his dog to safety. Image by Romeo Ranoco

                                    A woman is rescued from flood waters by a resident standing on top of her car during heavy rain in Chalandri suburb north of Athens

                                      A man helps a woman out of her vehicle during a flood in Chalandri, Greece. Image by John Kolesidis

                                      lunch

                                        A woman has lunch with her husband every day, even after he’s passed away. Image from ViralNova.com

                                        hug

                                          A woman hugs the mother of 6-year-old Noah Ponzer, who was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings. Image by Spencer Platt

                                          rubble

                                            An Oklahoma couple pauses while trying to salvage belongings from a family member’s home after a tornado. Image by Adrees Latif

                                            sister and brother

                                              A girl puts her arm around her little brother as they wait outside of Sandy Hook Elementary after gunshots are fired. Image by Reuters.

                                              headstone

                                                A woman sits at her husband’s grave the day before their wedding anniversary. Image from NBC news

                                                It means taking the time for long goodbyes

                                                110321-N-BT887-100

                                                  A man says goodbye to his son before deploying. Image by Official U.S. Navy Page

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                                                  national guard goodbye

                                                    A South Carolina man says goodbye to his son before deploying for Afghanistan. Image by The National Guard

                                                    saying goodbye

                                                      A Sergeant hugs both of his sons before being deployed to Afghanistan. Image by The National Guard

                                                      And cherishing reunions

                                                      husband home

                                                        A woman hugs her husband as she sees him for the first time since his deployment to Iraq. Image by The U.S. Army

                                                        boyfriend home

                                                          A young  woman hugs her significant other as he returns home for Kuwait. Image by The National Guard

                                                          mother hug

                                                            A mother drops to her knees as she hugs her son on her return home from the Persian Gulf. Image by The National Guard

                                                            True love is letting yourself feel young when they’re around

                                                            elderly women

                                                              Two friends on their smartphones. Image by Robert Neff

                                                              feeling young

                                                                A young couple getting their picture taken. Image by db Photograph

                                                                sprinkler dad

                                                                  A father plays in a sprinkler with his daughter at Millennium Park in Chicago. Image by Ben Forsberg

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                                                                  subway couple

                                                                    A young couple on a subway enjoys sharing time together, while the girlfriend’s father sneaks a photo of them. Image by Gareth Williams

                                                                    wheelchairs

                                                                      A couple holds hands on a fall day. Image by David Amsler

                                                                      It’s letting yourself be silly… just because they’ll enjoy it

                                                                      silly faces

                                                                        A grandfather makes faces at the camera with his granddaughters. Image by Tim Pierce

                                                                        vote for pedro

                                                                          A woman’s father wears a Napoleon Dynamite t-shirt to make his daughter laugh. Image by emdot

                                                                          True love is allowing yourself to show how you really feel

                                                                          date night

                                                                            A young couple kisses in the back of a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Image by Derek Key

                                                                            playing violin

                                                                              Violinist Nancy Dinovo plays at a memorial service for the victims of 9/11. Image by Christopher Morris

                                                                              True love is timeless

                                                                              old friends

                                                                                Friends spending some time together. Image by Cristian Bortes

                                                                                sitting around a fire

                                                                                  A group of friends sits around a campfire eating. Image by New Old Stock

                                                                                  elderly couple

                                                                                    An elderly couple walks down a street together. Image by Matteo Paciotti

                                                                                    Featured photo credit: Matteo Paciotti via flickr.com

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