How do you help someone with anorexia recognize the problem?
When wondering how to help someone who has anorexia, a good place to start is thinking about their behaviors.
Eating disorders all present differently, and your friend or family member may be experiencing different symptoms than those that are more widely known. At the same time, some disordered eating habits have become normalized and even admired in a mainstream culture heavily influenced by diet culture.
This can make it difficult not only to see the signs of AN in others, but for someone with AN to recognize a problem within themself. Learning more about the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa can help both you and your loved one more clearly understand what's going on and how important it is to seek help.
Signs your loved one may have anorexia nervosa
Contrary to the stereotype, anorexia nervosa can occur in people of any gender, age, ethnicity, and body size. Some common signs and symptoms of the disorder include, but are not limited to:2
How to help a loved one with anorexia find treatment
Once your loved one acknowledges they need help, it's important to encourage them to seek it out. But broaching that subject—or airing your initial concerns about their health—can feel daunting.
The way you bring about this sensitive topic can make a difference in how you can help someone with anorexia, potentially influencing how receptive your loved one will be to what you have to say.
How to support someone with anorexia in recovery
It's always good to see your loved one's eating disorder being treated, with them taking steps toward healing.
But your support at this time can be just as important as it is early on in the process, to help someone with anorexia stay hopeful, keep working on their self esteem, and have a safe place to go if they're feeling overwhelmed or concerned about backsliding.
How to help people with anorexia in social situations
Building a strong support network is a crucial aspect of recovery from anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder.
Some useful tips include:4
- Keep inviting them to join in with family and group activities, even if they often say no.
- Plan social events that don’t revolve around food or exercise. Instead consider trying out activities that are engrossing and distracting, such as board games or crafting.
- When you get together, avoid always talking about treatment or the eating disorder unless they bring it up first. Watch a movie together, start a book club, or take your dogs for a walk together.
- Avoid any comments about their body, weight, or appearance.
- If you do end up in a situation around food, ask what kind of support would be helpful. They probably do not want you to micromanage their eating, but it may help them to eat a feared food together, or to have you tell a distracting story during a group meal to make them feel less self-conscious about eating around others.
How do you help someone with anorexia at home?
If you live with someone in recovery or are a big part of their home life, there may be additional ways you can help support a loved one with anorexia nervosa, including:8
- Ensure you have everything at home for planned meals, to avoid anxiety around the situation.
- Offer to go food shopping for your loved one.
- If you're eating together, plan together with your loved one what you will be eating and when, and keep a mind to portion sizes.
- Encourage your loved one to return to hobbies they used to enjoy or try out some new hobbies with them that fit in around their treatment.
How to show up for yourself when helping someone with anorexia
While it's important to offer your loved one ongoing love and support in their struggle with AN, it's equally as important to show yourself some care.
Anorexia nervosa is not just difficult on the person going through it. The stress of the situation can easily extend to friends and family members. And when you're feeling stressed, it can turn compassion and patience into anger and frustration.
Make sure to make some room in your schedule for things that give you joy or help you relax. Go for a walk, write in a journal, listen to music, or do some yoga. You can't pour from an empty cup, so keeping yourself calm, clear, rested, and ready is one of the best ways you can help someone with anorexia.