This is a question that I often get when people find out that I am a recovered Anorexic. The people asking these questions are often desperate parents, friends, and classmates who would do anything to see their loved ones “get better”. I have yet to meet anyone that asks this question out of malice or bad intentions. They truly want to help. However, I have also seen well-meaning people who have unintentionally pushed their loved ones away, doing more harm than good.
If you are reading this, my assumption is that you genuinely care and want to do anything possible to help your friend. In today’s “thinks” I would like to share with you some key points that may help you in being the support to your loved one. Please keep in mind that I am not a licensed physician (yet). This post does not in any way replace the recommendations made by your friend’s doctor. Which leads me to my first point…
Your Friend Will Need Professional Care
I don’t know how many people during my recovery process thought they were experts on what I was going through. While you may think your opinion may help your friend, they will need to be seen by a professional. Unfortunately the home that I grew up in did not believe in seeking medical attention for my eating disorder. It was not until I was in college and away from the harmful environment that I was able to get the help I needed. My recovery was extremely slow due to the lack of medical attention that I received. However, the medical help that I did go through after I was on my own made all the difference in the world. My advise to anyone trying to help a loved one would be to leave all “professional” opinions aside and encouraging your friend to seek medical attention.
Eating disorders are extremely complicated. The issues are much deeper than food.
To anyone who has never struggled with anorexia, it may be hard to understand the complexity that goes into the thought process. Anorexia is not a crash diet or just refusing to eat. It’s much deeper than that. While there may be some who developed an eating disorder with the desire to be “thin”, this may not always be the case. For me personally, it was a way of self harm that turned into an addiction. As with may addictions, it was my “escape”. It was a way that I didn’t have to feel. I could be dead on the inside and not absorb any of the hurtful things that were happening around me. No matter the reason, telling an anorexic to “just eat something” will not cure the underlying issues. Again, your loved one will need professional care.
Your friend will not magically get better if they “See how upset you are”.
Yes it is going to be frustrating. But getting angry with your friend is not going to help them. Your friend will need love and a sure understanding that you are there for the long haul. The things that helped me the most in my recovery were not the times my father screamed at me for my hair falling out in the bathroom, it was the times my Aunt Jo told me she loved me. And in her deep southern accent she would tell me, “I love you Babydoll”. She was in tears when she found out what was happening to me. She didn’t once raise her voice at me, she just genuinely loved me. It was also the friends I met in college who smiled at me regardless of what I looked like. Aside from the medical standpoint, it was love that brought me to recovery. Your friend is going to need all the love they can get.
Do not assume the role of “accountability”.
This again goes back to your friend needing to seek professional help. As much as you may want to see your friend progress, you have to understand something. Your friend isn’t just fighting anorexia, they are fighting an addiction. Unfortunately the ugly truth is that your loved one may lie to you about how much they have eaten, if they’ve been overexercising, or if they are taking any laxatives. It is so important that you do not become your friends “recovery meter”. What they need from you is so much more than that. They need your love and support more than anything.
Telling your friend how they look is not going to help.
You’re so skinny!
You look disgusting!
There’s nothing left of you!
You look like a walking skeleton!
You look sick!
Don’t you ever eat anything?
I can tell you don’t eat enough!
Your appearance is terrifying!
You look like a corpse!
and the worse one yet…
You look like a cancer patient that went to Auschwitz prison camp!
These are all actual things people said to me while I was anorexic. Although some of these things should never be said to any human being, some of these quotes were people who were just “stating the obvious”. As much as your friends appearance may scare you, calling them names or making comments about their appearance will not help. Sure there will be some that are obsessed with just “being skinny” but I did have moments of clarity where I knew I didn’t look well. I remember standing in front of a mirror in my room completely naked in tears because I was horrified of how I looked. There was no way that I was happy with my 72lb body, sunken back eyes, exposed bones, and thinning hair. Most days I wore clothes that covered my whole body. Of course I was cold all of the time, but it was also to hide what I looked like. After a while I got tired of my parents yelling at me for any concerns that were brought to their attention by other people. It was just easier to hide instead of dealing with the obvious.
Love is the best support.
While it is mandatory that your loved ones seeks professional medical attention, the best thing that you can provide for your friend is love. Recovery is a long difficult process. It also often involves relapses. Your friend may genuinely want long-term recovery but relapsing is quite common with any addiction or eating disorder. My last relapse was in 2009 when I was placed back into my original harmful environment. I had a good friend in college that noticed that I was not ok after I returned from summer break. It was her kindness that helped me get back on track. As of this year (2017) I am happy to say that I have been fully recovered for 8yrs. No it wasn’t an easy process but I couldn’t have done it without the love and support from my friends.
Thank you for reading this weeks “thinks”! I hope it has in some way helped you. If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please contact NEDA or call 1-800-931-2237. Thank you again! I’ll see you all next week!