Eating Disorders Awareness: Knowing How to Help
There are resources available to help those suffering from an eating disorder, as well as those who want to help them.
National Eating Disorders Awareness week is observed in early March, with a goal of educating and helping those living with an eating disorder, as well as friends and family members who want to help.
The first place to start is identifying if someone might have an eating disorder. Some signs to look for:
- Change in personality
- Change in behavior towards food, weight, or body image
- An increased focus on intense behaviors or becoming obsessed with a certain way of eating
- Simple dieting that snowballs and a person finds hard to stop
- Food rituals such as cutting food into small pieces or chewing something over and over
- Food is missing, yet you never see it being consumed (may indicate binge eating)
- Unhealthy amounts of exercise, even when sick
- A person going to the bathroom immediately after eating
"It's difficult for a person dealing with an eating disorder, it entrenches their mind and body. They may hide their behaviors because of a lack of understanding of what they're going through because they don't want to seem crazy or be told simple things like 'just eat.' It's not as simple as that for them," says Gina Johnson, Psychotherapist with the Eating Disorders Program at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois.
They may hide their behaviors because they don't want to seem crazy
Johnson says most people have some body conscious issues, it's when those start being taken to extreme that there should be concern, such as if someone is wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss.
If you are concerned that someone might have an eating disorder, Johnson suggests speaking with them in a loving, compassionate manner, using "I" statements (I am concerned about...), without placing any blame or guilt on the person you are trying to help.
"Most people will be defensive," says Johnson. "Be supportive and ask what you can do to help."
Another important thing to remember, according to Johnson, is to present a positive image on eating and exercise and to be a good role model, especially when it comes to children.
"The more and more a child hears something, the more it sinks in, and they will start looking at themselves through the same lens that mom does and may start to become more concerned about their own body even if there is no reason to."
There are programs to help. The OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Eating Disorders Program offers outpatient counseling, an intensive outpatient program, and a partial hospitalization program. Information is available by calling 309.655.2738.
Additional resources can be found through the National Eating Disorders Association website.