Q+A for Eating disorders
What are some of the key signs to look out for in someone with an eating disorder – what are the obvious signs, and perhaps the less obvious signs, too?
The key obvious signs to look out for if someone is struggling with an eating disorder are they express concerns about their weight or body shape, having the desire to lose weight or change the way they look if their body weight is fluctuating (but this isn’t always the case), comments on other people’s body weight. They talk about clean eating, dieting, and becoming obsessed with what ingredients/nutrients are in each food, they calorie count their meals, and focus on what other people are and aren’t eating. They get stressed about food situations and being able to control what they are eating and when they feel uneasy if food plans change.
Energy levels can drop, struggling to focus and becoming disengaged and uninterested mood swings. Anxiety and depression are attached to eating disorders; therefore, they may show signs which are the same as those who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Some less obvious signs are overcompensating, becoming super busy, thriving of being busy, doing everything and never also resting behaviours before and after mealtime, for example, going to the toilet or looking reoccupied. Avoiding socials where food is involved or always eating alone.
What are some of the biggest myths about eating disorders that people don’t understand/often get confused with?
Having an eating disorder is a choice, it is not it’s a mental health condition that is complex and complicated.
That you have to be underweight to have an eating disorder, many people who are overweight or “normal weight” are struggling just as much.
That it is to do with being vain, and attention seeking and is just about looks and image, it’s not it can be deep routed and not always about the physical food
If you want to help a friend, what is the first thing you can do? Here are some tips for suggesting they get help – how to start this conversation?
Make sure you gain lots of knowledge and understanding with what you can find on the BEAT and NHS and the best things you can say to start with are telling them how much you love them, you care for them and want to help them. Express your concern and that you want to check if they are ok, be prepared for your friend to pull back or shut the conversation down but you must have patience and keep showing them you are there whenever they need. Don’t assume or try to explain why or what your observations are as that can make them feel uncomfortable.
What to say/not to say to a friend with an eating disorder? Here is a list of a few top things you hear/experience? Never comment on their appearance whether it's weight loss or weight gain or say anything that shows you are feeling impatient, don’t comment on what they are eating or congratulate them after eating, and don’t give your opinion on what they should do. Focus on the positive supporting messages like I am here to support you even if I don’t fully understand, we’re in this together, let's do this, I am proud of you and what can I do to help you today.
How can you, as a friend, be supportive at mealtimes and in social situations? Meal times will no doubt be difficult for everyone especially the person with the eating disorder, during meal times focus the attention on other things for example plans that week, what you did last week, and favourite things to do/books, make meal times fun and enjoyable, don’t pressure them to eat anything and when socialising do things that aren’t food focused and ask them how they are and how they are feeling. Keep inviting them even if they continue to decline, build up their self-esteem and don’t overwhelm them or push them too far outside of their comfort zone with what or where you are eating.
How can an eating disorder affect a friend’s personality and mood? Some advice for dealing with this or how to deal with your/their emotions.
Its likely that someone with an eating disorder is also struggling with anxiety and depression and mood swings, they may have days where they feel amazing and other days where they feel very low. Be there for them even if it’s just in person and offering an ear, don’t take their actions or reactions personally, they will be struggling to process the emotions and stress themselves.
Treatment for an eating disorder – what should you know as a friend about treatment? What are the different types of treatment available and how can you support a friend during their recovery?
Treatment may take time, except that your friend may take weeks, months and years to recover it’s not a quick fix, treatments vary for different eating disorders and their severity of them but its usually a combination of psychotherapy, an Eating disorder specialist, a GP, nutrition, education and sometimes medications. Getting friends, family and partners on board with the best knowledge and understanding so the messages at home and in their personal lives are the same as when in treatment with the professionals. Talking and emotional therapy is crucial, this can be done in person but also through a self-help program.
If a family member is living with an eating disorder, here are some tips for managing this at home?
Don’t speak about food, weight, shape and diets. Don’t watch them eat or make them feel like they are being monitored, educate yourself about eating disorders, ensure that you are there for them when they are ready to talk and don’t get frustrated or blame anyone even if it feels stressful for you. Discuss with them how they like to be supported and how much would they like to talk about how they are feeling.
Good books, podcasts or other resources that I recommend?
Podcasts: More to life podcast @iamellemace, The eating disorder therapist podcast @theeatingdisordertherapist_, Just eat normally podcast @rachel.evans.phd