In prior blogs, I have written about my early relationships with food and body image, which may have played a role in my eating disorder development later on in life. In this post I want to share a little bit more about my experience, and provide some tips on the best ways to help a friend of family member if they are going through something similar.
My eating disorder began during my freshmen year of college. I started college as a scrawny walk-on athlete. I never worried about my weight much before, but was very aware of how my body looked… and I had a specific way I wanted it to look. Throughout my freshmen year, I was exposed to a new way of working out that I had never experienced before… lifting weights! I did put on a good amount of weight, mostly muscle, and was certainly aware that I looked a bit different by the middle of my freshmen year. Due to this, as well as a few comments from teammates and friends about the changes in my body, I decided to go on a diet. At this time, I also underwent a surgery that obviously limited what I could do in the weight room; therefore, I began to lose weight pretty quickly. When I healed from my surgery I began running… and eating less and less. Things just went from bad to worse, as you can imagine, and the rest is history – I was sucked into my own eating disorder world.
Thankfully, I had a wonderful therapist, as well as family members and friends who helped me through this terrible, isolating time in my life. Do I regret it? Although, I definitely lost friends and probably some great experiences during this time, I don’t regret it. My eating disorder made me into the fighter that I am today, and I truly feel that I am so much more able to help others that are in the same position that I was; I can relate and I understand what they are going through.
These are some of the behaviors I experienced early on and are signs to watch out for if you suspect disordered eating in a friend, family member, athlete, student, etc.:
- Suddenly becoming vegetarian or vegan
- Giving up a certain food or food group for Lent, the summer, during the week, etc.
- Taking up a new workout hobby, like excessive running
- Making excuses for not eating and turning down dinner invitations with friends/family
- Isolating themselves
I know it can be hard to know how to approach or what to say to someone you suspect is struggling. Many people tried to help me in both obvious and subtle ways, so I thought I would share what helped me most:
- Not pushing, but saying you are there to talk – in the beginning, most people are not willing to open up, talk, or even admit that they are struggling. The best thing to do is offer a listening ear, without pushing for an explanation or getting mad.
- Let the person know you care about them – I had friends and family members write me letters telling me how much they cared about me and loved me just as I was. They will never know how much this helped.
- Keep trying – do your best to not give up on this person. I know it probably gets old getting turned down 8 times a week to get lunch, but keep including them and looking for ways to spend time together. The more supportive you are, the more likely they are to open up.
- Encourage them to seek help – when/if they do get to a point where they are willing to admit they are struggling, encourage them and help them find the perfect therapist and/or dietitian, no matter what it takes.
One of the most important things you can do is prepare and educate yourself as much as possible. Reaching out to a therapist or support organization can help you with this. The person you care about may be experiencing high levels of anxiety, shame, embarrassment, guilt and denial; and the resources that you have should be able to help you understand the best way to approach this person.
For more eating disorder resources, visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/resource-links.