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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 January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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