Below are a few Do's and Donts to keep in mind when first broaching the subject with the person you care about.
Things to Do!
- Make your concern clear.
- Establish that eating disorders are something that you are prepared to talk about at the present time and in the future.
- Plan what your going to say
- Establish a bottom line for continuing to live together if the person you are addressing is a roommate
- Have the conversation in a comfortable, relaxed setting.
- Make it clear that you are there for support but that getting better is their responsibility
- Keep healthy and caring messages coming
- Emphasize enjoyable activities that are not weight related
- Draw attention to progress, attributes, strengths that are unrelated to weight or shape.
- Demand normalcy! Encourage them to do their share to keep things running.
Things NOT to Do!
- DON'T broach the topic when either one of you is intoxicated or emotionally charged
- DON’T ask whether it is your fault! When you ask if a person blames you, the possible outcomes are not good. For one thing, the conversation becomes about you. There most definitely is a place for your feelings, but asking a person who struggles with their emotions to manage yours as well is just not realistic. As well, in order for someone to share difficult feelings with you, they want to be assured that you have your bases covered—that if they lean on you for support you won’t crumble. By asking whether their eating disorder is your fault you are suggesting that you yourself need protection.
- DON'T accuse or blame! This sets up an imbalanced power dynamic where you position yourself in opposition to the person you are trying to help. The individual often ends up defending him/herself against your accusations and leaves feeling more worthless than before. Your remarks will act as ammunition for them to continue hating themselves.
- DON'T threaten! Threats do not provide feelings of empowerment—they do not make the individual feel equipped to handle their eating disorder.
- DON'T engage in eating disorder talk! This may seem obvious but it is surprisingly difficult to do. People with eating disorders digest ANYTHING you say about weight and shape badly—regardless of your intentions. Commenting on weight gain for someone who was clearly underweight may seem to you as if you’re complimenting progress. However, individuals with eating disorders are convinced that size and weight are all that matter about themselves. Highlighting those things only serves to reinforce that belief. This extends to discussions about food. Announcing that you are drinking skim milk instead of 2% can do a lot more damage than you might expect.
- DON'T let the eating disorder take centre stage! Don’t let the person’s food phobias, preferences or rituals dictate your eating or meal habits.