If you discover that your child has ED, it can be really scary. You might be confused as to WHY your child is ill, why they are acting this way, and why they just can't eat! If your friend has ED, you may want to do anything to help, but you are confused as to what you can actually do. Having anorexia has made me somewhat more aware of the things that helped, and those which did not help me while I was sick. I hope this can help you as well!
WHAT NOT TO DO/SAY
-"You look really thin. You need to eat something" (victim gets defensive and feels offended that you are telling them to eat)
-"WHY CAN"T YOU JUST EAT?!" (Okay, this one drove me crazy. I can't 'just eat' because I have an illness that forbids me from eating. Why can't cancer patients just kill their cancer cells? Point proven).
-"Do you have cancer or something?" (In a sense, ED is kind of like cancer. Hearing this made me feel like the other person was mocking me - it was obvious that I was sick, so why were people asking?!)
-"Just ignore the eating disorder. You are going to die" (Well, you are right. This can kill me. But telling me to ignore it is undermining the complexity of the illness. It takes a lot more than just 'ignoring' ED to recover)
-Don't tell the victim to go eat something. Chances are, they WILL NOT do that. Instead, try asking them if they would like to have a meal together - maybe this will ease their anxiety. If they decline, don't keep pushing. The patient is not trying to be rude; they are just scared and ED is screaming at them
-Don't stop inviting them to parties or get-together just because they always say 'no'. The victim's ED wants to isolate him/her. If you stop inviting them to gatherings, ED will take more advantage of this and tell the victim that they are not welcome with their friends because they are useless, fat, ugly, etc.
-Don't call any of their symptoms 'stupid'. Saying that starvation is stupid does not help the victim - it only makes him/her feel less-confident and bad about themselves.
WHAT CAN BE HELPFUL
-When the time is right, approach the person and say that you are worried. You have noticed that she/he looks a bit different or ill, and you want to know how you can help them. The victim will usually take this as a supportive approach.
-Ask the person if you can help them find resources. Maybe you can drive them to a doctor's appointment or to go see a dietitian or therapist.
-Offer to take them out for a small snack or meal. If they refuse or decline, make another commitment to do something with them. Sometimes, the patient will agree to a gathering, and maybe this can encourage them to stop isolating
-Let them know that getting treatment for their eating disorder is not wrong or shameful. It is an illness like any other disease. Getting professional help - in any form - is important. Tell them that you are there for them - to support, to love, to care, etc.
-Check-in with the victim often. Give them a call to ask if they are alright. Make them feel loved and important. This can help their self-esteem and isolation.
I'm sure there are so many other tips and things to do or not do. But these are just a few that I could think of. I guess the most important thing to remember is that ED IS an illness and it is not something that the patient chooses. Therefore, teasing them or mocking their illness will only make them isolate more. Be patient with them and show them love. They need all the care and support they can get.
In my experience, I do not know what I would do without all the lovely people in my life who never left my side. To my readers, family, friends, and Church community - THANK YOU. You have all done the above with me - and even more. Your continuous support and love is what got me through my darkest days. I am forever grateful and indebted to you all. May the Lord bless all of you for your service!