What You Can ( and Can’t ) Do
The first thing to keep in mind is that as an “outsider” (not suffering from an Eating Disorder yourself) there are many things you cannot do to help a family member or friend to get better. You cannot force an Anorexic to eat, keep a bulimic from purging, or make a Compulsive Overeater stop overeating. The first thing to realize once you have come to the awareness that your loved-one suffers from an Eating disorder, is that you must not concentrate immediately on the food. All forms of Eating Disorders are emotionally based and the behaviors are only a symptom to emotional and stress related problems. Disordered eating is an attempt to control, hide, stuff, avoid and forget emotional pain, stress and/or self-hate.
If you are the parent of a child under 18, you will have difficult decisions to make regarding their care. Regardless of pleas to “not make me,” and promises that the behavior will stop, you will have to stay very attuned to what is happening with your child and may have to force them to go to doctors and/or the hospital. Keep in mind how serious Eating Disorders are and that they can kill.
If your relationship with someone suffering from Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating is anything other than their parent, or if your child is over the age of 18, then you can support and encourage your loved one to seek help.
In most cases it will be important for each sufferer to find a mode of recovery that will work for them. One-on-one therapy, support groups, clinics, in-patient or out-patient, art therapy, church groups, a combination of any, or none of the above but something completely different … there are many options out there. Help your friend or family member to gather information if they are open to your help. Be encouraging – - there can be a lot of road blocks in searching for Eating Disorder recovery so be reassuring that recovery is possible! Be there to listen and communicate.
For the Anorexic or Bulimic who exhibits any of the following signs it may be essential to encourage them into medical treatment, in-patient in a hospital, immediately: Dizziness, fatigue, black-outs, extreme temperature sensitivity, chest pains, tingling in hands or feet, blood in stools or vomit, stomach pains, incontinence or uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea, and/or 25% or more weight loss of total average body weight in a short period of time.
There are many signs and symptoms as well as physical dangers. It is important to remember that the continued behaviors of Eating Disorders can lead to many physical problems, further emotional difficulties, and even death.
Keep in mind there isn’t a lot you can do overall, as an “outsider” to a close family member or friend suffering from an Eating Disorder. It is up to the individual suffering to decide they are ready to deal with the emotional issues in their life that have led them to their Eating Disorder. They need to make a choice for recovery. There is no one in their lives that can make this choice for them, they must want to do it for themselves. Often the process of intervention will help them to make this choice.
For advanced cases of Anorexia and Bulimia, the course of treatment will usually begin with stabilizing the patient’s health, and from there it is imperative that a course of therapy, both individual and/or group, take place. For cases in which the patient’s life is not in immediate danger, it is important they seek therapy, from and experienced therapist in the area of treating eating disorders, with or without group therapy. Unfortunately, more often than not, sufferers tend to reach life-threatening situations before they seek help, even if then. And in most cases, once they’ve come out of immediate danger and left the hospital there is no follow up treatment, so they only find themselves back in the hospital shortly after. This can continue for years and it is destructive both emotionally and physically, but the final action to get better lies in the patient’s desire to get better. Often times they feel afraid to ask for help, or don’t feel there is a proper forum in which to ask. More often than not, the Eating Disorder sufferer does not feel they deserve help.