How to Talk To Someone You Suspect Has an Eating Disorder

Over the weekend I was asked by my very sweet friend Jamie “How do you help someone who you suspect has an Eating Disorder?

Jamie is an intelligent, sophisticated and caring woman. It was so startling to see someone who is so well spoken look to me for guidance on how to speak to this elephant in the room. I realized that there are many of us who are in the same scenario, wanting to help, but having no idea how to. Today we will explain how to lovingly answer the CALL to talk to someone about their Eating Disorder when we see it.

We have all seen the elephant in the room with an Eating Disorder. She is the girl who seems to live at the gym and talks to no one. Though she looks like a frail walking skeleton you’re pretty sure her glare could quite possibly kill you on the spot if you get to close to her coveted treadmill. Then there is the shy co-worker who hides her obese frame in her cubicle.  Her drawer is full of sweet and salty binge foods that she eats all day. She refuses to go out to lunch with the office and instead isolates.

So how do we help someone we suspect may have an Eating Disorder?  We have to answer theCALL which definitely isn’t an overnight process….

Connection – Part of the reason you feel compelled to help this person who possibly has an Eating Disorder is because you notice the lack of connection in their life. You’ve noticed this person has no friends, no hobbies, a lot of anger, a ton of hatred and some serious depression. On the flip sometimes  they are possibly the opposite extreme as an “Achieve-a-holic” and are so hyper and busy that they can’t build connections. A lot of the reason for these behaviors is somewhere in their past this person learned that connections are dangerous and hurtful. You are going to try and break down this barrier by building a connection and being their friend. Take an interest in one thing they like: Animals? Books? Science? Fashion? Let them know that you care about what they care about and maintain that connection. Be the same person you are each time you see this person: stable and loving. A person with an Eating Disorder will look for any reason possible to turn on you and consider you “ dangerous just like everyone else.” Try and keep your commitments and your word with this person. Let them know that this “connection” with you is important to you.

Authenticity –  From an Anorexic to a Compulsive Overeater, people with Eating Disorders don’t believe that the world allows them to be their authentic selves. They truly believe they will combust if they actually speak their mind and stick to it. It’s your job to mirror authenticity to them. Show this person what authenticity looks like. Be humble, talk about your own struggles with insecurity, self worth, pain and anger. Show this person that you accept yourself for all your gifts and equally for all of your flaws. This will shock them like seeing snow on the beach. They will be attracted to that element of authenticity because essentially that’s what we ALL want.

Laughing – When you’re introduced to a new baby what do you do? You try to make them laugh. When men take women on dates, what do they try to do? They try to make them laugh. Why do we do this? Because we all know that when we are laughing it signals that we feel safe with the other person. This may sound trite, but try to find the humor in life with the person you suspect has an Eating Disorder. When you make them laugh their brain will fire serotonin that will then fire a signal to their frontal lobe that you are a safe person to be with.

Loving – Now the hard part…. Loving…. Is a hard thing to do. I was recently introduced by a friend of mine to a guy that I dated for a couple of weeks. It didn’t end well and when my friend heard about this he asked me, “Do you mind if I have a man to man talk with this guy the next time I see him about this whole situation?” I thought about it for awhile and I realized that if my friend said anything to this guy I was going to look like an immature little girl who ran to her friend and tattled. On the flip I also realized that in my recovery from my Eating Disorder that I had many people lovingly call me out on my behavior and that made me realize the gravity of my disease. So my answer was, “If you feel that’s on your heart to do go for it. People being honest with me is the most loving thing I have ever experienced.” The guy was spoken to. Will he change his behavior? Will he treat the next woman differently? I don’t’ know.  But at least I know that I was willing to make a loving decision even though it was uncomfortable to do so.

The fact of the matter is talking to someone about their Eating Disorder is a very uncomfortable, awkward thing to do; which is why so many people let the elephant stay in the room. But, if you can get over that fear of uncomfortable and awkward feelings you just might be doing someone a favor … or even saving their life. When I think of love I don’t think of Cinderella, The Notebook or Romeo and Juliet… I think of Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus…. I think of people who put themselves in the most uncomfortable situations for the sake of other people being able to experience FREEDOM at its fullest.

I think that no matter our education on Eating Disorder we can all see that the person in this disease is in chains. The only way we free them from that is by lovingly saying, “I care about you. I adore you. I’m also worried about you and I think you might have an Eating Disorder that’s killing you and it’s killing me to watch it.” Then sit there and listen. See what they say, they might deny it. They might laugh in your face. They might scream in your face (that one is always interesting ;) ) and they might (which I have also experienced) say, “How did you know? Can you help me? “

You never know what comes from loving someone. It’s scary. It’s heartbreaking, but most of the time… it’s worth it. Thanks for reading this post and thank you for answering the CALL to love someone out of their Eating Disorder.

The Montecatini staff is great at what they do. Everyone there treated me with kindness and compassion, and I am so thankful for all they did for me.

– Former Client
A Dynamic and Vibrant Healing Community
Located in scenic Carlsbad, California, three miles from the Pacific Coast.