Two days I ago, I came across an article written by a young woman titled: How to Handle My Eating Disorder in Your Home for the Holidays. I was intrigued and found it to be an interesting perspective. It got me thinking, what are some of the ways that were helpful for me when I was trying to handle my own struggles with food and body issues? My experience was not the same as the author of this article, and I am not sure how I feel about someone making generalizations of how to help someone with disordered eating (because everyone is so different), but I think it can open up important dialogue for people who want to be supportive and helpful.
Fortunately for me, my family was very supportive during some of my more difficult times, but I have seen first hand how other families have (not so successfully) dealt with some of my close friends struggles with food and body issues and sometimes it’s not so pretty. It’s a delicate balance between being concerned and supportive and also not making the person feel like you are watching them or being judgmental of certain behaviors or decisions (like to eat or not eat!).
I often shied away from telling people I was close with about my issues because I didn’t want to them worrying about me or always keeping track (believe me, I already was!). I saw the way some of my close friends would talk about other friends who were dealing with things like this behind their backs, more specifically about what they were eating and how they were acting. I thought—no way—I don’t want that, it would just make me feel even more conscious about what was going on.
Everyone is different, but here are some things that I found helpful for me:
-People not commenting on what I was or wasn’t eating, especially not while eating. (I mean really!)
-People not bringing it up in front of other people—unless it was a group discussion that I initiated or something (I always felt a lot of shame surrounding my own struggles).
-Instead of asking “You look like you’ve gained/lost weight,” or “It looks like you are eating a lot/ not eating very much,” instead asking something more along the lines of: “Is everything okay?” Or “What’s been going on for you?” (Because really, it’s not about the food).
-People who were able to take out their own issues with food and body, like for example competitiveness, and come at helping me from a purely compassionate standpoint. You can tell when someone is genuinely concerned for you, or just acting that way because it has been making them feel uncomfortable.
-Friends/family that let me know they were there for support, but allowed me come to them when I was ready to talk about it. I think most helpful was if they made an effort to check-in with me—not just about food, but about everything that was (or wasn’t) going on (sort of like a routine check-up!)
-People that recognized it was something I struggled with, but wasn’t who I was, and didn’t treat or look at me differently.
Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone outside of your own family or close circle of friends to initially get help and support. Support can really make a difference! What are some ways that have felt most helpful or supportive to you? Do you think you would ever feel comfortable asking for this kind of support to someone you trusted?