If you have concerns that somebody close to you may be developing or experiencing difficulties with food, it is important to try to broach the issue with the person.
Eating disorders are best treated as early as possible in order to promote a full recovery. If someone you care about is displaying warning signs or symptoms of an eating disorder, do not ignore it — it will not go away.
It is best to address and tackle disordered eating behaviour as early as possible. It may seem challenging, but keep in mind you are doing the best thing for your loved one, and for yourself. There are no right or wrong ways to start this discussion as every situation and person is different, however there are some points to consider.
Be calm, honest and open about your concerns for the person. The longer someone lives with an eating disorder, the more physical and psychological damage will be done, and the longer it will take to reach a point of full recovery.
Before speaking to the person, it is important to think about what you would like to say to maximise the chances of a positive conversation. Use your knowledge of the person to decide the best way and time to approach them. You may find it helpful to role play your conversation with another person, or role play your approach in your own mind.
Assure the person you are talking about it because of your genuine care and concern, rather than coming across as making accusations or judgements.
Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘You’ statements as the latter can lead to the person feeling attacked. For example, you could say, ‘I am concerned for you because I have noticed you’re not so happy at the moment’ rather than ‘you aren’t happy at the moment’.
Your family member or friend may not be ready to take in what you are saying at the time, but they might be ready to look at a fact sheet, brochure or list of services in their own time. You can download a fact sheet or contact the EDV Hub for information specific to their situation and services in their area.
Avoid using labelling or judgmental language
Focus on the person’s behavioural changes rather than their weight, food consumption or physical appearance. For example, you might decide not to use the words ‘eating disorder’ or ‘bulimia’ but to talk more generally about moods, behaviour, isolation and your concerns about them.
Choose a time when you are both feeling calm and are unlikely to have any distractions. Pick a safe and comfortable place, and try to avoid raising it before, during or immediately after a meal.
How they might respond
Be prepared for their emotional reaction, which may be one of anger, denial or relief:
Anger – the person may feel angry at their privacy has been threatened, that they have not been able to deal with the eating disorder on their own or that they are embarrassed or ashamed.
Denial – the person may deny there is a problem because they feel guilty or ashamed. The person may also feel protective about their eating disorder, especially if it serves a purpose for them, such as a coping mechanism or a sense of control in their life. Alternatively the person may be confused and shocked because they have not yet identified themselves as having an eating disorder.
Relief – the person may feel relieved that someone has noticed and offered them support or help. If the person is truly endangering his or her life by their eating habits, family and friends may need to insist that professional help is sought.
Encourage the person to seek professional help from counsellors, doctors, youth workers, community health centres and organisations such as Eating Disorders Victoria. Reassure them that you are there to help and support them and they are not alone in their situation. Encourage them to seek support from the people in their life who love them, such as friends, family or parents. Encourage the person to think about the benefits of a life without an eating disorder.