EATING DISORDERS ARE EMOTIONAL DISORDERS
Eating disorders appear to be about eating, but they are much more than that. People with eating disorders have a preoccupation with food, weight and eating. This preoccupation helps distract them from dealing with their emotions, stressors, bad relationships, school, etc. When talking with your daughter, son or friend remember that she or he probably is feeling unhappy and somewhat depressed.
TALK ABOUT FEELINGS NOT BEHAVIORS
It is important to focus on how your daughter, son or friend is feeling rather than what she or he is doing. Try not to focus on behaviors (purging, restricting, taking laxatives, etc.). This may cause her or him to feel defensive and not want to talk openly. Make attempts to express your concerns, saying things like "I'm really worried about you." You might even suggest attending an appointment to see an eating disorder specialist, or be willing to drive her or him to a support group.
BE SUPPORTIVE AND REASSURING
When talking with your daughter, son or friend, be supportive and reassuring. Let her or him know that you are there to listen. If you feel that talking is not working, end the conversation nicely and try talking another time. Let her or him know you are available. In a week or two, bring your concerns up again and tell her or him that you want to support her or him. Suggest that you haven't forgotten about the problem and would still like to help in any way you can.
Remember, your daughter, son or friend may become defensive or angry. People often feel threatened when others know about their problems. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed about having the problem and/or discussing it with you. Try not to take an angry or defensive response personally.
THE TREATMENT PROCESS
Treating an eating disorder is very individualized. No two people are the same and the amount of time spent in treatment will depend on the significance and severity of the problem. When an individual starts the process, he or she may deal with feelings they have never experienced. When these feelings intensify (depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.), the behavior part of the disorder (purging, restricting, taking laxatives, etc.), may increase. This is temporary and will subside.
I would recommend that you read as much as possible about eating disorders. Two reputable websites are EDAP.org and ANAD.org. There are several good books on eating disorders in your local library or bookstore. The more you understand your daughter, son or friend's problem the better you will be able to support her or him.
SPECIAL NOTE TO PARENTS
It is difficult for parents not to want to "fix" their daughter's or son's problem. You have been able to fix many things throughout your daughter or son's life, but you will not be able to fix the eating disorder. Your role is to be supportive and to be a good listener. Your daughter or son will be able to help you with what they need if you will ask how you may be of help. You also may ask if she or he would like you to come to a therapy session so you can better understand what she or he is dealing with. Having a family session is a helpful way to understand eating problems and open the lines of communication between families.
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