With 10 million men and 20 million women in the U.S. suffering from an eating disorder at some point in their life, the chances are high that you know someone who is, or was, suffering from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are mental illnesses and can be life-threatening, so it’s important to educate yourself about the warning signs and what to say to someone who has warning signs of an eating disorder.
One of the warning signs of an eating disorder is an obsession with food, weight, calories, etc. Excessive exercising and withdrawing from friends and hobbies are also signs to look out for. Signs of anorexia nervosa include dramatic weight loss, excuses to avoid situations involving food, denying hunger, food rituals and anxiety about being “fat.” Some signs of bulimia nervosa include frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, calluses on the back of hands, disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time and discoloration of teeth. Signs of binge eating disorders include eating to the point of discomfort, eating when one isn’t hungry and feelings of shame regarding the binge eating.
If you are concerned that someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, one of the best things you can do is educate yourself about eating disorders as best as you can such as by reading books and articles. Remember that you can’t fix someone or force someone to get help, but by being supportive and understanding you may be a big influence in giving them the courage to change their unhealthy behaviors or seek the professional help they need. Telling someone you’re worried about them can seem scary, but it’s important to honestly address your concerns as early as possible before the situation gets any worse and harder to overcome. Learning what to say to someone you’re concerned about is important. For example, you don’t want to make hurtful accusations that place shame or guilt on someone, such as “you just need to eat.” You also want to be careful not to let someone manipulate you into making harmful promises like “I promise not to tell anyone” allowing them to continue their unhealthy habits secretively. Reminding someone that self-worth doesn’t come from a size or number is key, try complimenting them on their positive personality traits and characteristics.
Being there for someone struggling with an eating disorder can be difficult, but it’s during those darkest moments in life when someone may not be the most lovable that they really need people to be there for them the most. It’s important to remember that eating disorders are psychological and can even overlap with other mental illnesses, such as depression and substance abuse. If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, please find the courage to reach out for help, or to reach out to help someone, before it gets any worse. Hope and help are real and things will get better.
A very useful website to learn a lot more information is: