Anorexia might just be the most dangerous and most difficult to understand of all the eating disorders. After all, starving oneself—to the point of malnutrition and even death—seems unfathomable.
And yet people do it more than you might imagine.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder next to opioid use disorder. Even people who have undergone treatment for anorexia are still five times more likely to die than someone in the general population. (1)
If ever there were a person who needed support, it is your friend or family member suffering from anorexia.
The question becomes: How can I best help? And that’s what we’ll answer today.
Two Actions You Can Take to Support Someone with Anorexia
Before you launch into the actions listed below, take a moment to learn more about anorexia. If you can better understand why a person might avoid food—and how it must feel for them to do so—you’ll be more able to lead with empathy and to speak the truth in love.
Then, consider the following ideas for encouraging your friend or family member toward a more healthy view of their own body and food.
Lovingly confront any barriers to treatment.
You’ll likely encounter a few common responses to the idea that your loved one needs help. The top three, as identified by Mayo Clinic, include:
“I don’t need treatment.”
“I don’t want to gain weight.”
“I’m not sick; I’m simply choosing to eat less.” (2)
Expect to hear one or all of these statements and consider how you’ll confront them in a loving and truthful manner. You might try:
“I understand that you don’t think you need treatment, but I think you do. We can’t both be right. What if you went in for an evaluation so we can know for sure?”
“I can see how gaining weight might sound scary. But I’m worried about how malnutrition might affect your body in a negative way. A professional could help us sort these things out.”
“I know you are choosing to eat less, but I guess I’m wondering why. Starving yourself is dangerous. There must be a healthier way for you to meet your needs. And treatment might just be where we find the answer.”
Keep in mind that studies show some people with anorexia may not receive hunger cues in the same way that other people do. (3) This shows what a unique challenge it can be to overcome anorexia and why cultivating a team of doctors, mental health professionals, and dietitians offer the best bet for beating this eating disorder.
Do what you can to encourage healthy weight gain.
The first and most important thing a person recovering from anorexia must do is initiate adequate nutrition for weight restoration. This works to regulate the body and begin the long process of improving any problems caused by malnutrition.
While you should never attempt to force feed a friend or family member—and we mean never—you can look for ways to support normal eating habits.
If the person lives in your home, you can be sure to serve three balanced meals each day and two snacks. Make mealtime a lighthearted and enjoyable experience, full of conversation about anything and everything except food.
If the person lives outside your home, ask for permission to speak about this part of her life. Permission received, you can offer to grocery shop together, make meals together or simply check-in and ask how she’s doing following the eating plan prescribed to her.
If you find yourself hesitating in your desire to help a loved one with anorexia, remember just how dangerous it can be. Then resolve to love your friend or family member in a truthful and lifegiving way.
We can help. Give us a call today at 205-409-4220 or connect with us through our contact form.