In past posts we have talked about eating disorders, Symptoms of Eating Disorders and The Link Between Eating Disorders and Anxiety. Anxiety is common in people with eating disorders. One study [Kaye, 2004] showed that two-thirds of those with eating disorders had an anxiety disorder at some time in their life.
A U. S. government study released on March 7, 2011, as reported by NBCNews.com, shows that half a million teens suffer from some type of eating disorder, with binge eating (bulimia nervosa) being the most prevalent. Binge eaters consume large quantities of food and then purge the food through vomiting, using laxatives, fasting or excessively exercising. Many of those suffering from bulimia are underweight even though they believe they are overweight and are not satisfied with the way their body looks.
The U.S. News and World Report, in an blog that appeared in December 2009, lists the symptoms of binge eating:
- Eating very quickly.
- Eating beyond the point of satiety to the point of uncomfortable fullness.
- Eating when not hungry.
- Feeling embarrassed about eating, leading the person to eat alone.
- Feeling guilt, disgust or depression after eating too much.
In addition, those with bulimia nervosa may use the bathroom right after eating, use eating as a way to combat stress, have fluctuations in their weight and feels a helplessness at not being able to stop eating. They may have tried dieting over and over with little or no results.
Tips to Help
Many times friends and relatives know someone is not right, they may wonder about a possible eating disorder but not know what to do to help. The following tips may be helpful if you suspect someone you know of having an eating disorder:
Open up a Conversation
Talk to your friend or relative in a quiet place, where it is private. You want to voice your concerns in a non-confrontational way. Stay calm and focused and always be respectful of the other person. Don't be discouraged if your friend or relative becomes angry or gets defensive but remember, unless this is a child, you cannot force treatment or force him or her to change. Let him or her know you care and you are available to help at any time.
Some do's and don'ts when talking about an eating disorder:
- Do stay focused on feelings. Describe a time you were concerned. Let her know you care and are concerned about her health.
- Don't mention weight, even to let her know you think she looks fine. She is already highly sensitive about her weight.
- Do focus on health issues. Let her know you are aware that bulimia can lead to additional health problems and you want her to stay healthy.
- Don't discuss body image as this can have the opposite reaction and feed into her need to be thin.
- Do let her know you are available if she should choose to get help.
- Don't try to force her to eat or demand she stop purging.
Although you can't force someone to get help or to stop overeating and then purging, you can suggest your friend or relative talk with a doctor. You may want to suggest a physical to make sure there aren't any health problems commonly associated with bulimia. You may want to suggest he or she talk with someone about managing stress.
It is okay to offer to accompany your friend or relative to the doctor but be respectful of their privacy and do not force your way into the examination room, unless you are asked to come along for emotional support.
Bulimia may be caused by a number of factors. Don't blame your friend or relative, instead offer support and love. If he or she wants to talk, listen without interrupting or asserting your own opinion. Some other ways to offer help are:
- Look for a local support group for eating disorders and offer to attend.
- Look for classes on preparing healthy meals
- Offer to be a cooking partner, helping your friend or relative learn healthy habits about eating
- Talk about possible stressors that lead to overeating and help find more productive ways of coping with stress
Even if your friend or relative initially reject your suggestions, he or she may feel better, just knowing someone cares and is willing to listen.
"Half million U.S. teens have eating disorders," March 7, 2011, Lindsey Tanner, NBCNews.com
"Health Tip: Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder," Dec 11, 2009, U.S. News and World Report