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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 May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

Reference

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