Helping someone you love with an eating disorder

Eating disorders affect some 30 million Americans, causing 10,00 deaths a year in the U.S. If you suspect that a family member, friend, or loved one is suffering, follow this advice from CNN Health:

• Recognize the symptoms. Look for the signs of an eating disorder: preoccupation with food, weight, and/or calories; skipping meals or eating only small portions; noticeable increases or decreases in weight; increased gastrointestinal problems like cramps, constipation, or acid reflux; dizziness and fainting; discolored teeth or tooth loss; fatigue; and more.

• Share your concerns. Don’t be accusatory or confrontational. Ask if you can talk, preferably in a private space. Use “I” statements, like, “I notice you seem to be obsessed about your eating,” or “I see that you’re skipping meals a lot.” Don’t spotlight their weight or appearance, and don’t offer simplistic advice like, “You need to eat more.”

• Encourage them to get help. If they’re receptive, suggest they talk to a doctor and seek therapy. They can also look up some of the many organizations designed to help people overcome eating disorders, like the National Eating Disorders Association or the National Alliance for Eating Disorders.

• Focus on the future. Remind them of the good things that can happen when they feel better—more energy, confidence, and self-esteem, or less anxiety and worry.

• Don’t judge. Whatever you do, refrain from commenting on their weight, body, or food choices—or even your own (“Wow, I’m so fat.”). People with eating disorders tend to constantly criticize themselves and compare their bodies to others. Be positive.

• Nurture your relationship. Don’t talk only about the person’s problems. Reinforce their positive aspects, and suggest activities that are fun for both of you. They need a strong, supportive friend to help them feel better about themselves.

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