The first step to recovery: Reaching out for support
It can be scary and embarrassing to seek help for an eating disorder, but opening up about the problem is an important step on the road to recovery. However, it’s important to choose someone who will be supportive and truly listen without judging you or rejecting you. This could be a close friend or family member or a youth leader, teacher, or school counselor you trust. Or you may be more comfortable confiding in a therapist or doctor.
Tips for talking to someone about your eating disorder
There are no hard and fast rules for telling someone about your eating disorder. But be mindful about choosing the right time and place ideally somewhere private where you won’t be rushed or interrupted.
Starting the conversation. This can be the hardest part. One way to start is by simply saying, “I’ve got something important to tell you. It’s difficult for me to talk about this so it would mean a lot if you’d be patient and hear me out.” From there, you may want to talk about when your eating disorder started, the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors involved, and how the disorder has impacted you.
Be patient. Your friend or family member will have their own emotional reaction to learning about your eating disorder. They may feel shocked, helpless, confused, sad, or even angry. They may not know how to respond or help you. Give them time to digest what you’re telling them. It’s also important to educate them about your specific eating disorder.
Be specific about how the person can best support you. For example, checking in with you regularly about how you’re feeling, helping you finding treatment, or finding ways to support your recovery without turning into the food police.
Eating disorder support groups
While family and friends can be a huge help in providing support, you may also want to join an eating disorder support group. They provide a safe environment where you can talk freely about your eating disorder and get advice and support from people who know what you’re going through.
There are many types of eating disorder support groups. Some are led by professional therapists, while others are moderated by trained volunteers or people who have recovered from an eating disorder. You can find online anorexia and bulimia support groups, chat rooms, and forums. These can be particularly helpful if you’re not ready to seek face-to-face help or you don’t have a support group in your area.
What emotional need does your eating disorder fill?
The first step is figuring out what’s really going on inside. Are you upset about something? Depressed? Stressed out? Lonely? Is there an intense feeling you’re trying to avoid? Are you eating to calm down, comfort yourself, or to relieve boredom? Once you identify the emotion you’re experiencing, you can choose a positive alternative to starving or stuffing yourself.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Call a friend
- Listen to music
- Play with a pet
- Read a good book
- Take a walk
- Write in a journal
- Go to the movies
- Get out into nature
- Play a favorite game
- Do something helpful for someone else
Coping with anorexia and bulimia: Emotional Do’s and Don’ts Do…
- allow yourself to be vulnerable with people you trust
- fully experience every emotion
- be open and accepting of all your emotions
- use people to comfort you when you feel bad, instead of focusing on food
- let your emotions come and go as they please without fear
- pretend you don’t feel anything when you do
- let people shame or humiliate you for having or expressing feelings
- avoid feelings because they make you uncomfortable
- worry about your feelings making you fall apart
- focus on food when you’re experiencing a painful emotion
Appearance and body image symptoms
Dramatic weight loss – Rapid, drastic weight loss with no medical cause.
Feeling fat, despite being underweight – You may feel overweight in general or just “too fat” in certain places, such as the stomach, hips, or thighs.
Fixation on body image – Obsessed with weight, body shape, or clothing size. Frequent weigh-ins and concern over tiny fluctuations in weight.
Harshly critical of appearance – Spending a lot of time in front of the mirror checking for flaws. There’s always something to criticize. You’re never thin enough.
Denial that you’re too thin – You may deny that your low body weight is a problem while trying to conceal it (drinking a lot of water before being weighed, wearing baggy or oversized clothes).
Using diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics – Abusing water pills, herbal appetite suppressants, prescription stimulants, ipecac syrup, and other drugs for weight loss.
Throwing up after eating – Frequently disappearing after meals or going to the bathroom. May run the water to disguise sounds of vomiting or reappear smelling like mouthwash or mints.
Compulsive exercising – Following a punishing exercise regimen aimed at burning calories. Exercising through injuries, illness, and bad weather. Working out extra hard after bingeing or eating something “bad.”
Don’t be shy about asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, it only means you’re wise