Friday, 5 May 2017

When Someone You Love Has An Eating Disorder


A few months back, I and 3 other amazing ladies, spoke at the Woman In Networking event at Highstreet. It was an amazing night of connecting. After much reflection on the night, I wanted to recap a bit.

I spoke on the topic of Eating Disorders and my own personal battle with one. I will start by saying I am not going to speak on behalf of anyone else without their consent hence why I am sharing only my story here and not anyone else's. I also want to make aware, I am not a counsellor or professional. I am simply someone who has gone through a eating disorder and have come out on the other side with hope and healing. I struggled with bulimia and anorexia from age 16 to 22 with the last 3 years, from 19 - 22, being a time of rehabilitation and tons of self-healing. However, the struggle was a secret for a long time. For the first three years I bottled up all my feelings and lied to mostly everyone in my life to keep it a secret. It was one of the hardest battles I have ever faced and doing so all alone made it much worse.

However, at the age of 19, I started to open up; first with my dad and then my very best friend. These people played a significant role in my recovery as I took steps to health. I didn't get to share this fact at the Women In Networking event because we ran out of time. But, I wanted to share just how these people made a difference in my daily life, giving me courage, strength and a safe place to talk.

So, since I have walked through this all those years ago and it is one of the biggest questions I get asked, I thought it would be great to share just how you can support someone who you know is going through an eating disorder. It is a fine line to walk on but you can be someone very special to someone who is struggling.

1. Be there for them
By being there for them I mean, reach out. Be the friend who thinks of them often. Invite them out, get together, go out for coffee, have fun, be their friend. There is a real reason they are struggling and it will most likely be much deeper than you have the ability to help them with. But what these people need are loyal, honest, friends who dearly love them. You will still need to create boundaries since some people who struggle will attach themselves to people. But make it known that you love them and you want to be there for them. In other words, create a safe place of trust. Have them know you are not going to gossip about them or make them feel judged for their actions since what they could be doing and going through can feel incredibly embarrassing.

2. Love them unconditionally & listen
Avoid all judgment. They may share things and your initial reaction may be to judge them. But try your very best to accept them exactly as they are, especially when they open up to you.  Just listen.

3. Take a hint
Not everyone is in a place to get better. And if they are not, don't push them. You have a better chance of anything getting through to them if you just do the two steps above rather then to push them or ask questions. You will feel it, if they seem shut off, or are uneasy about talking... let them be. If anything, just do something fun with them to take their mind off of whatever they are currently struggling with. You may find they separate themselves from you if you choose to push the matter, only making them feel more alone in their battle. Even if you have good intentions they may not be able to see them, but I promise they will in time. I get some of these points may seem to contradict each other. But this is just what often happens with people who struggle with there disorders, their is a battle they are facing and some days are good days and others, not so much. 

4. Know they won't change until they are ready
There is a place of wanting to get better and there is a place of not wanting to. When you have a friend who does not want to get better, I can promise you there will be little to nothing you can do to convince them of doing so. Over time they will feel the control of their disorder and again the top two points will be what will create a place for them to open up. If your friend is ready to get better this is a great place to continue to do these points AND even create dialog about how they are actually doing. Little convos like... how are you feeling today? Was today a hard day or good day? Would you want to come for lunch with me today? etc. But note, these convos are for times when they choose to be open about their struggle. 

5. Ensure they are safe.
Eating Disorders can come with all sorts of other mental health issues such as depression, alcohol abuse, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts. If you have a friend who is struggling, don't shy away from the honesty of how they are feeling. A cry for help is a cry for help and it can come out in all sorts of different ways. If your friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. Tell them you care and love them no matter what. If they are in imminent danger, do the hard thing by telling someone who can help them. Make sure this is someone you feel is safe, trustworthy and will understand. We could be talking about life and death and, in this situation, the safety of your friend or family member is the utmost important thing.

Eating disorders are a secret disorder. They are done in the darkness behind closed doors. They come with lots of shame and misunderstanding of their strength. Please note these pointers are not the be all end all and I am in NO way a counselor or therapist so please always consult with a professional as well. This is simply a few ideas of how people in my life supported me and how it got me to a place of facing and eventually overcoming this deep dark struggle. 

Photography by sister-in-law, Brittany

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