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How to Help Someone with Anorexia

Learn how to help someone with anorexia from Allegra Broft, M.D. in this Howcast video about eating disorders.


Watching a friend or a loved one struggle with Anorexia nervosa can make a person feel extremely helpless. And it can really be extremely hard to know how best to approach that friend or loved one and be able to do anything or say anything that's going to be experienced as constructive. And there's no guaranteed blueprint as to how to do this effectively.

One thing I can say is that, in general, probably standing by and just allowing an eating disorder to go unacknowledged and just basically sort of pretending it's not there, probably in the long term is not a good strategy. That really sort of can reinforce a person's denial about seriousness of an illness that they're coping with.

But struggling to find the right words and the right language can be difficult. Anger can be a common piece of watching somebody with an eating disorder deteriorate and figuring out how to leave an angry out of beginning to bring up the eating the problem can be a challenge and something that I would sort of encourage. That the most you can take an approach that is somewhat gentle that doesn't put a person too much on the defensive is an important piece of style that is likely to be more successful. On the other hand, especially if you're a parent and you're really taking a very central role in trying to guide your child or adolescent into treatment, being firm about the need for treatment is equally important to not being too angry or putting a child on the defensive.

Certainly as a parent or a close loved one to someone, there's also many things to think about in terms of how you relate to a child or adolescent, or loved one that has an eating problem. So that, for example, if you yourself struggle with shape and weight concerns or have a relationship with your child, or adolescent, or loved in which shape and weight critiques a part of the dialogue, you really want to think about that and not have those type of critiques be part of the ongoing conversation. They really can just serve to deepen and entrench the eating concern that the person that you're watching struggling with the eating disorder has.

Ultimately, getting some help from a mental health professional, like a family therapist, can be extremely helpful in trying to communicate more directly with a person about an eating problem, figuring out neutral language to use to help move a person towards treatment and through treatment in a constructive way instead of in a destructive way

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