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The right and wrong way to approach a person with an eating disorder

I was once a participant in a job search program long before I was a therapist. There was a young girl there we felt was anorexic. She never ate lunch which was the only mealtime available during that group time. She said she was never hungry.

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The group members were concerned and approached her about the possibility that she might be anorexic. The girl denied it and said she felt she was normal she ate when she was hungry but it was never had lunchtime. The group may have been overreacting as they were not professionals but they were concerned.

How to talk to someone suspected of having an eating disorder

Familiarize yourself with eating disorders

First of all you must read all the information you can about the eating disorder you feel the individual has. You may need to explain some things to the person before encouraging the person to get help. Remember it is a very sensitive subject.

Choose a good time and place

Normally before or after meals are not a good choice; unfortunately, our group did not have that option. If your friend is going through a stressful situation than this too is not the right time to bring up the topic.

Choose a quiet spot

Choosing a quiet spot where you can talk freely. Because of the restrictions in our group setting the girl was approached by several people at once and was understandably very uncomfortable.

Be supportive

Do not be judgmental, but show concern and the desire to be helpful

Choose your words carefully when dealing with someone with an eating disorder

Using words like “I never see you eat or you are always making excuses or you are just being stubborn will only put the person on the defensive. Why can’t you eat, or just force yourself to eat is not helpful. It is okay to make an observation such as “I noticed that every time we go out together you don’t order any food, or I noticed you are losing more weight.

When the person is receptive to your concerns

Make sure you have the information for a treatment center, doctor, website, or psychologist at hand. It is important to seize the moment. If the person with the eating disorder is not provided with options in the moment he or she may very well dismiss the idea and not do anything about it. You might even suggest going to the first appointment with him or her for support or help him or her with the initial phone call.

Be prepared for rejection

You may very well be facing resistance but you want to keep the subject open and offer to be there for your friend should he or she changed their mind. You can also talk with a family member who may be closer to your friend and someone your friend looks up to. When the friend is a minor the best people to talk to are the parents.

However the last thing you want to do is gather other people and gang up on your friend. This is exactly what happened to the girl in my group.

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