Tips for Helping Patients with Disordered Eating
February 28 2023
Busting Eating Disorder Myths, Treatment, and Support in the Home for Patients
Eating disorders are considered behavioral health issues, however, the effects of untreated disordered eating can have negative consequences on a person’s physical health, not just their mental health.
There are several different types of eating disorders, but they all involve extreme disturbances in eating behavior. This can be binging and purging, following rigid diets, severely restricting food intake, throwing up after a meal, obsessively counting calories, and more.
Eating disorders, at their core, are an attempt to deal with emotional issues often involving self-critical attitudes about weight, food, and body image. Restricting food can help a person feel in control. Overeating temporarily soothes emotions and purging can combat self-loathing. Over time, a person with an eating disorder can lose the ability to see themselves objectively (body dysmorphia) and food and weight can dominate everything else in their lives.
The road to recovering from disordered eating is a life-long journey and involves identifying and treating the underlying issues that drive the disordered eating. Treatment also helps patients to find healthier ways to cope with emotional pain.
It is important to remember that you cannot force a person with an eating disorder to change or to seek help, but you can offer support and encourage treatment. That support can make a huge difference in your loved one’s recovery.
Common Types of Eating Disorders
The three most common types of eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Anorexia is when the person starves themselves out of an intense fear of gaining weight. They severely restrict their food intake, may exercise excessively, take diet pills, or purge after eating.
Bulimia involves a destructive cycle of binging and purging. Following a binging episode, the person with bulimia will take drastic steps to purge themselves of the extra calories. This includes vomiting, exercising excessively, fasting, or taking laxatives.
Binge eating disorder causes the patient to compulsively overeat, rapidly consuming thousands of calories in a short period of time. Despite feelings of shame or guilt over these secret binges, they are unable to control their behavior or stop eating even when uncomfortably full.
Eating Disorder Myths
Myth 1: You have to be underweight in order to have an eating disorder.
Fact: People with disordered eating come in all shapes and sizes.
Myth 2: Only teenage girls and young women are affected by disordered eating.
Fact: While disordered eating is more common in young women in their teens and twenties, disordered eating can affect persons of any gender and age.
Myth 3: People with disordered eating are vain.
Fact: Vanity is not what drives eating disorders, but is rather an attempt to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
Myth 4: Disordered eating isn’t really that dangerous.
Fact: Eating disorders are serious conditions that cause physical and emotional damage. It can even lead to irreversible life-threatening health problems.
How to Talk to Someone with an Eating Disorder
Talking to a loved one or a patient with an eating disorder can be difficult. Body dysmorphia can make it hard for them to understand where you are coming from, and pushing them too hard to seek treatment or bombarding them with dire warnings can have the reverse effect of what you actually want to happen. The patient may even be in denial or get defensive when you try to talk to them.
Here are some tips to help you carefully broach the subject:
- Pick the right time: choose a private time with minimal distractions and when the person is emotionally calm.
- Explain your concern: don’t lecture or criticize, but rather explain why you are concerned and express your desire to help.
- Be prepared: your loved one or patient may deny having a problem or become angry and defensive; you’ll need to prepare to stay calm, focused, and respectful.
- Just ask: even if your loved one or patient lacks the desire to change for themselves, they may want to change for other reasons; ask if they have reasons for wanting to change and seek help.
- Be patient and supportive: even if the person shuts you down at first, don’t give up. The important thing is keeping the lines of communication open and being willing to listen without judgment. Be clear that you care and that you are there whenever they are ready.
What not to do:
- Avoid ultimatums
- Avoid commenting on appearance or weight
- Avoid shaming and blaming
- Avoid giving simple solutions
- Never force someone to eat food as this can cause behaviors to happen more secretly and close down lines of communication
The most important thing you can do is to encourage your loved one or patient to get help by seeking medical and behavioral health treatment. The longer an eating disorder goes undiagnosed and untreated, the harder it is on the body and the more difficult it is to overcome.
Treatment for Disordered Eating
Treatment for eating disorders depends on a patient’s specific symptoms, issues, strengths, and the severity of the disorder. An entire team is often the best approach, including medical doctors, mental health professionals, and nutritionists. Participation and support of family members can also make a big difference in the patient’s success toward and in recovery.
Medical Treatment: this part of the treatment is to address and stabilize any serious health issues. Hospitalization or residential treatment may be necessary if the condition of your loved one or patient is severe. Outpatient treatment is an option if the person is not in immediate medical danger.
Nutritional Counseling: Dietitians or nutritionists can help the patient design balanced meal plans, set dietary goals, and reach or maintain a healthy weight. This counseling can also involve education about proper nutrition.
Therapy: this type of treatment is crucial as eating disorders are behavioral. The goal here is to identify the negative thoughts and feelings that are leading to disordered eating habits, then replace those feelings with healthier, less distorted attitudes. The patient will also be given healthier ways to cope with difficult emotions, relationship issues, and stress.
Treatment in the Home
Family and home health teams can help support those in recovery or who are still resisting treatment.
Positive Example: family members can set a positive example by eating nutritious and balanced meals, rather than focusing on dieting. It is important to think about how you talk about your body and your eating. Avoid self-critical remarks or negative comments about the appearance of others. Instead, focus on what is on the inside that makes a person attractive.
Fun Mealtimes: families should eat together as often as possible. Even if your loved one is unwilling to eat the food prepared, they should still be encouraged to join you at the table to enjoy one another’s company. Avoid talking about problems and use this as a time to focus on the good and to show your loved one that food can be enjoyed instead of feared.
Promote Self-Esteem: promote intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. A well-rounded person can have a greater sense of self and better self-esteem.
Don’t Blame Yourself: loved ones, especially parents, can blame themselves for a family member’s disordered eating. Remember, you truly have no control over a loved one’s disordered eating behaviors. It’s important to accept that an eating disorder is not anyone’s fault. Freeing yourself of this clouded thinking can allow you to better support your loved one.
Some other things to help support someone’s recovery:
- Learn about eating disorders
- Listen without judgment
- Be mindful of triggers and avoid discussions about food, appearance, and eating
If you or a loved one needs treatment and assistance with an eating disorder, All American is here to help. Our team of caring professionals includes medical staff and therapists who can support you and your loved one in the comfort of your own home. Contact us today to learn more!