How to Help a Friend Who is in Anorexia Recovery
It’s hard to see someone you care about struggle with an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa, so when they get into treatment and recovery there is a usually an immense amount of relief. Usually, when a friend or loved one is in treatment, they receive a lot of support, but the time post-treatment is also a crucial time. It’s the time that they are most vulnerable to relapses or setbacks within their disorder.
For friends and family, knowing how and when to offer support and assistance can help your loved one stay firmly planted in their recovery.
What to Do and Say for Your Friend in Recovery from Anorexia
Be Open and Honest – Talking openly and honestly to your friend in recovery about their anorexia and their recovery is essential. Being able to share your feelings, fears, and hopes for them in a loving and compassionate way will go a long way in terms of support.
Be Non-Judgmental – It’s also important that as you listen to your friend you are not judgmental. That will encourage him or her to be more open and honest with you. Keep in mind that anorexia breeds isolation and secrecy, so being able to open up is a big step for your friend.
Know Your Limits – Understanding your own limits is also important. There may be things that you are uncomfortable with about your friend’s eating disorder or recovery. For example, you may find it difficult to sit with your friend at meals, but feel comfortable in participating in activities with them. Know that it’s alright to be active in some aspects of recovery, but not others.
Educating Yourself – When you are armed with knowledge, you are better able to be supportive of your friend. Read up on anorexia and eating disorders in general. You’ll find that they are not just about food, there are usually underlying issues that fuel the behaviors.
Encourage Your Friend to Seek Support – Support, both peer and professional, is essential to your friend’s recovery. Be encouraging about your friend attending support meetings or groups, talking to others about eating disorder recovery, and keeping their appointments with doctors and therapists.
Act Normally Around Food – People who are in recovery from an eating disorder often express the desire to “fit in” with others. By engaging with food in normal ways, and not avoiding situations due to your friend’s disorder, you will be providing him or her with helpful experiences.
What Not to Do and Say for Your Friend in Recovery from Anorexia
Know How to Say No – There may be times during your friend’s recovery that you need to say no, and that’s an important part of being supportive. However, the way you say it is important. Try to stay away from saying things like, “Stop doing….”, or “You should or shouldn’t…”. Rather, approaching them with loving and compassionate sentences that start with, “I am worried about you because…”, will be much better received and not seem demanding or judgmental.
Avoid Talking about Weight and Body Changes – Don’t make comments about your friend’s weight loss or gain, or about the changes that you see in their body. While you may mean it in a positive way, your friend may not take the way you intend. Instead, make comments like, “I’m so happy to see that you are taking care of yourself.” Additionally, be careful what you say about your own weight and body, it can have a negative effect on your friend in recovery.
Avoid Labels – Staying away from labeling things, foods, or behavior and being good or bad is also an important part of being supportive. Anorexics often struggle with a perception that things are either good or bad, and they work on changing that perspective in treatment.
Supporting Your Friend in Recovery
Being a supportive friend to someone in eating disorder recovery can be difficult at times. Your friend may have setbacks and challenging days, making it even harder on you. Following the above suggestions, being mindful of what you say and do, and approaching your friend in a loving and compassionate manner are some of the best ways to show your support.
Summit Behavioral Health helps men and women with eating disorders get started on the path of recovery. If you know someone who needs help, please contact us today.