How to Eat Around Someone with an Eating Disorder

  • [I wrote this article a few years ago for FamilyShare, but I just learned their website is being discontinued, so I wanted to share my blogposts here on my blog.]
  • Chances are, you know someone who has an eating disorder. It may be obvious from her behavior, or you may only suspect she has a disorder. How do you help your friend or family member? How do you behave during family dinners or when you go out to lunch together?
  • Remember she can’t control her own behavior
  • One of the first things you should know about an eating disorder is that it’s similar to cancer or diabetes in that the person can’t just "get over it". Though she may have initially chosen an eating disorder to feel a sense of control, the disease ended up controlling her. In most cases, anorexics cannot force themselves to eat, and those with bulimia cannot stop themselves from purging. It’s imperative that people with eating disorders get help from qualified doctors and therapists.
    1. Eating disorders are deadly, with 10% of those diagnosed with anorexia dying from the disease.
    2. Remember, she feels hungry. It’s a myth that people with anorexia don’t enjoy food. Most crave food, feel hunger, and fantasize about delicious meals. Those with eating disorders often love to cook for others, but refuse to eat or properly digest their food. It’s okay to talk about food and enjoy eating it when you’re with someone who has an eating disorder. Even if, you feel self-conscious about your own weight, you should eat to satisfy your hunger. Forget about diets and calorie counting. Instead, focus on your body’s need for energy.
    3. Be Positive. According to Jenni Schaefer, an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association, "Eating disorders are characterized by constant self-criticism." Be an example of positive thinking for your friends with eating disorders. Sincerely compliment them on their good attributes, and practice thinking positively about yourself and body. Try to listen with love and empathize with their problems.
    4. Avoid Lectures About Food. Jenni Schaefer wrote about going out to eat with one of her friends who criticized her food choices. Though Jenni ordered foods her dietician had approved, her friend continued to give advice about how Jenni could be eating healthier. Jenni ended up feeling discouraging instead of loved and had to limit her interactions with this friend. Friends and family members can encourage eating, but they shouldn’t police food choices unless they have a therapist’s permission.
    5. Seek Advice from a Therapist. Family Based Therapy involves parents monitoring a child’s food choices under the direction of a therapist. FBT has a 90% success rate compared to a 36% success rate among those who received individual therapy.
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  • Harriet Brown wrote about using FBT in her book, Brave Girl Eating. Brown prepared five meals a day for her teenage daughter, made sure she ate them, and stayed with her afterward so she couldn’t purge. Harriet’s dedication saved her daughter’s life. Although her daughter has had a few relapses since the treatment, her future looks bright.
  • There’s great hope for people with eating disorders, and you can increase their chances for success by showing love and support. With your help and the help of a qualified therapist, your friend or loved one can lead a normal life again.
  • 1 Worthen, Kaela. "Eating Disorders: Not Just About the Food." LDS Living Magazine March/April 2012, 61-64. p. 63
  • 3 Brown, Harriet. Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia.New York:Harper Collins, 2012. p. 98
  • 4 Schaefer, Jenni.Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004. p. 112