With National Eating Disorder Awareness Week already underway, it is the perfect time to talk about eating disorders and the suffering they cause for more than 8 million women and men in this country. This is a sensitive topic and one that makes most people uncomfortable to discuss. Many more do not understand the disorders enough to comprehend what is going on beneath the surface.
With this limited knowledge about what someone is going through, it can seem terrifying and almost impossible to know how to connect with someone close to you who seems to be struggling with an eating disorder. However difficult it may be, talking to a friend or loved one about your concerns can help save their life, and that is reason enough to speak up.
To guide you through this talk, here are a few suggestions that might make the discussion easier or help you process their reactions.
1) Privacy: This is a very delicate discussion and is best addressed in a private area, preferably a closed room, where no one can overhear. Inviting a friend out for lunch or dinner to talk things over is probably not the wisest choice given the nature of the concerns. Invite them over for a cup of tea or coffee that way they are not already on edge about the food involved.
2) Use ‘I’ not ‘you’ statements: Your friend or loved one will probably be very defensive about this conversation and using ‘you’ statements might seem accusatory. Try framing your message with ‘I’ statements instead, such as: “I have noticed that you seem to be losing a lot of weight recently, and I am very concerned.”
3) Examples: Make sure your concerns are backed by examples, so that when your friend denies having a problem, you can support your fears concretely. Most likely they will still contradict you, but examples might help them realize that their behaviors are noticeable and make them understand that many more people could be aware and concerned.
4) Don’t take it personally: Although many people with an eating disorder may be crying out for help subconsciously, they are often still not ready to voice this. Your friend or loved one will probably be very defensive and perhaps angry that you are talking to them. They might say “I wish everyone would just leave me alone,” or another self-isolating statement. Don’t take what they say at face value, because eventually – and it may be years – they will be appreciative of those people who took the courage to say something.
5) Be compassionate: Eating disorders are like any other disease; they ravage a person inside and out, leaving the person both physically and emotionally exhausted. This can often make those suffering be on edge and snappy. Try to be understanding of what they are going through.
6) Leave the door open: The best thing you can say is: “I know you might not be ready to talk about this, but I am here for you, no matter what, and all I want to do is to make sure you are okay.” Just reassure them that they can always come back to talk with you on their time.
7) Suggest outside help: Whether they are willing to hear it or not, suggest that they see a counselor or doctor if you are scared for their immediate well-being. Try to find resources for eating disorder-specific services near you so you can better guide them to getting help.
This conversation will be in no ways easy, but we need to speak up to save the people we love. Many of my own friends were courageous enough to talk to me and although I was not so receptive to their concerns at the time, looking back now, I am so thankful that they did say something.
Each time someone voiced their concerns, I knew that they really cared about me and were scared for me. Eventually, their comments lead me to the road of recovery, and I could not be more thankful for that. Please help save a life this week, speak up.
For more resources on how to talk to a friend, please refer to the National Eating Disorder Association’s website, where they have specific guides on how to start these needed conversations.