Five ways to love someone with an eating disorder - #CureStigma

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We talk about emotional eating a lot around here, specifically Binge Eating Disorder. It's my hope that this website serves as a virtual shoulder to lean on for those who are struggling with any type of eating disorder or mental illness. Speaking of mental illness, did you know those who struggle with an eating disorder are also likely to experience other related disorders (such as depression, anxiety, OCD, and substance abuse)? I can personally vouch for that.  

If you're someone who struggles with an eating disorder, you may want to share this post. If you love someone with an eating disorder, this post is also for you.

It's hard to know how to love someone with an eating disorder. I get it, I really do. From the outside, an eating disorder looks like someone who eats too much, too little, has no self-control, or is too obsessed with appearance. What's really going on is so much deeper than surface level. It's very easy to think you're helping, but inadvertently choose words or actions that are hurtful. You may have experienced this scenario at some point. That's why we're here.

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

This year's theme is #curestigma. We need to end the stigma associated with mental illness (including eating disorders). One in five people suffer from mental illness and knowing how to reach out (to get help or give help) is is an important part of ending the stigma.

If you love someone with an eating disorder you may be wondering how to reach that person without being hurtful. It's easier than you think.

We're going talk about five ways to love someone with an eating disorder:

  1. Compassion - It can be difficult to be sympathetic to someone who over-indulges or self-sabotages, or the friend who starts a new diet every Monday. Please understand, eating disorders are more about the problem leading to the action than the action itself. Eating disorders are usually symptomatic of a deeper issue. You can love someone with an eating disorder by expressing that you're sorry they are suffering without pointing fingers or shaming. You can also assure your friend or family member that you will be available as they push through to healing.
  2. Empathy - When you love someone with an eating disorder know that this is an all day everyday struggle. If you've ever had a strong battle in your life, share that with your loved one. Reiterate that you are sorry your loved one is struggling. Be sure let them know that you will be available as a listening ear (not an enabler) during this time. 
  3. Understanding - Educate yourself on specific eating disorders and other related disorders. An informed friend is a loving friend. You can listen and help best if you're fully aware of warning signs and other things that could be troubling your loved one.
  4. Time - Know that eating disorders and other mental health problems don't run on agenda. Symptoms can come and go and relapse even years later. Be patient with your loved one. Agree to listen without enabling and know that ultimatums and time limits will likely only worsen the problem or put a wedge in your relationship. 
  5. Help - Those struggling with mental illness often feel alone in their battle. You love someone with an eating disorder by helping him or her feel less alone. Re-assure that person that you will do your best to be helpful. Let him or her know that feelings of anxiety or depression will not go on forever and help is available. Encourage your loved one to seek medical attention when warning signs persist. 

Mental illness does not discriminate.

It's important to note, mental illness (including eating disorders) can strike at any age. For example, eating disorders aren't just a teenage girl problem. Nothing about your life - including your faith; family; education; socioeconomic status, marital status or otherwise makes you immune. Mental illness can't be shaken off or ignored. You can live a life of gratitude and joy - thankful for all you have - and still be consumed with mental health issues. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin are real things you know? And, sometimes, they fall off the tracks.

After losing a friend to suicide and numerous other friends and family members to addiction, I pledge to speak out about mental illness. Everyone who suffers or has suffered alongside a loved one needs feel free to speak out unafraid and without judgment.

I invite you to follow this blog for future posts and resources on emotional eating, binge eating, and motivation to know better and do better for ourselves and others. 

#curestigma