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Understanding anorexia nervosa and what you can do to help.

Updated on January 3, 2010

What you can do to help a person suffering from anorexia nervosa.

It is often very obvious to recognise a person whom is suffering from anorexia nervosa, yet often very difficult to deal with or try to help this person if it is someone you know.

If you know someone living with this illness, it is important to learn to understand the deeper reason behind the illness in order to help them. The reasons why an individual may inflict anorexia nervosa upon oneself are typically feelings of self worthlessness, depression, envy, self consciousness, or to give one a sense of control or security over themselves or their lifes. Try to identify some of these emotions typical to the sufferer of anorexia nervosa in the person whom you know is suffering from the illness. If you can develop a good sense of what negative emotions are most prominent in the sufferer, you will then have a better chance at getting to the bottom of the real driving force behind the self inflicted illness in the person that you care about.

It is best to try to identify these negative emotions through observation alone. If you attempt to ask the anorexic person about these feelings at this stage, they are more than likely to get upset and walk away. You need to gain an understanding of what they are going through before you jump in and start asking questions.

It is necessary to realise that the negative emotions listed above of which the anorexic sufferer endures, are almost always due to circumstances of which the individual has been mistreated, either by means of physical, verbal or emotional abuse. Therefore, in order to help this person you must realise that the bottom line of the whole situation is that you are dealing with a person whos spirit/personality, has been broken/tainted, and your purpose for getting involved is to help this person heal and speed up the process as much as possible.

Rule number 1: Don't ever mention any thing along the lines of food to an anorexia sufferer. It will scare them. The suggestion of consumption to an anorexic person is likely to disgust them, cause them to feel nervous, anxious, threatened, self conscious, defensive, or just plain fat.

Rule number 2: It is likely that at some stage you will become frustrated in dealing with the anorexic person. When this occurs, whatever you do, do not lose your temper in-front of this person. It is best to appear very stable in-front of this person at all times.

Rule number 3. Don't ever comment on the anorexic persons appearance, regardless of whether positive or negative, don't do it at all. Until of course, they start acquiring a healthy physical shape.

When you have familiarised yourself with the listed above don'ts and have developed a basic understanding of the negative emotions that an anorexic person experiences, you can then begin to passively direct the person to the road of recovery.

Before i continue i must stress that the illness anorexia nervosa, is not JUST an eating disorder, more seriously, it is also a shocking mental disorder. The most common and significant mental disorder that goes hand in hand with anorexia is 'self image disphormia'. Which means basically that when the anorexic person observes their reflection in a mirror, their perception is delusional.

IE. A particular person suffering from anorexia weighs 45kg, their reflection in their own eyes reveals a 65kg person. This condition is common amongst anorexia sufferers, yet difficult for the more or less stable/ grounded person to understand. This is where the final rule number 4 comes in. Which is simply, don't ever judge the person. There is reason, whether understandable or not why this certain person had inflicted this illness upon themselves. Although you may not understand it, behave like you do. If you have never experienced this illness first hand, or any illness, you will never fully understand it, but i don't doubt that you can understand adequately enough to enforce impact.

Directing an anorexia sufferer to the road of recovery is not going to be easy. Be prepared for this process to become a manipulative mind game of big dog Vs little dog. Also, upon trying to help this person, be prepared for dramas and tantrums. Remember that it is unlikely that this person actually wants your help. So it is important that you are in a stable state of mind so you can shrug of the abuse that is likely to be hurled at you upon trying to help the anorexia sufferer.

It is best to take a passive/ assertive approach to the person with the eating disorder. So who is this person whom you care about that is living with anorexia nervosa? Why do you care about them? What are this persons talents and qualities? That is what you will be focusing on in order to help this person realise that they don't need this illness. You will want to form a very close relationship with this person, or strengthen it if you already have one. Also you must make the effort to have a lot of time for this person.

First of all, familiarise yourself with the person in questions interests. Whatever these personal interests may be, you are going to use them as tool. Discuss these interests with the anorexic person to get them talking. The purpose of this is that for the ill person to recall things that they are fond of, they may also recall positive emotions associated with their interests. If possible, get out and go do some activity with this person that is associated with their interests. I recommend that you participate in activities of interest to the anorexic person as much as possible. Remember that this is a negative minded person, the more positive emotions this person experiences, the more likely it is that they will begin to develop some positive thinking.

Think of the all good qualities of the individuals personality such as, generosity, kindness, intelligence, creativeness, honesty, etc.

Remind the anorexic person of these qualities frequently. A person suffering from anorexia nervosa is guaranteed to have low self esteem. It's your job to try boost that self confidence in order for the ill person to begin to think rationally.

To put this sort of time and effort into this person will probably become quite draining, but you are likely to get somewhere as opposed to crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, which will probably get you nowhere. These mental strategies are to be honest, all you really can do to try to help, until you start to notice changes in the person.The changes you will be looking for are: changes in clothing, the person appears happier/smiles more often, positive change in attitude, or that the person becomes more active. Often people suffering from anorexia withdraw from others or activities that they usually associate with. So if you notice that the person re unites with past times, people, things or places, then you can heave a sigh of relief because they are on the road to recovery. Realise that the person must initially recover mentally from the illness before their body can. So it is unlikely that the person will begin to develop healthy eating habits at the same rate they will heal mentally.

Once it is evident that the anorexic person is on the mend, it is then time for you to subtly reintroduce them to food.

Whatever you do, don't go making a point of it, IE. inviting the person to go out for dinner. Initially, keep the food affairs as casual as possible and start with small steps. I recommend that you start by getting the person to drink juice. Sneaky TIP:When you serve this person a glass of juice, put some strawberries around the rim of a nice big attractive looking glass. For a start in reintroducing the anorexic person to healthy eating habits, it is best to focus on food that is healthy, low fat, or easy to eat. I also recommend that you put the food forward to the anorexic person in situations where they are relaxed and distracted. For example, watch a movie together and organise a plate of crackers with cheese and tomato. You can't force the person to eat, don't ever try, you will probably just make them angry or upset. But you can try to tempt them by putting it under their noses and making it aesthetically pleasing is helpful.

Unless the anorexic person decides to discuss the eating disorder that they are suffering from with you, then don't ask. The person may want to talk about it when they have recovered, but until then , it's not likely.

You could also try getting this person to talk to a therapist but it is unlikely that they will be willing. Or you could even try talking to a therapist yourself to get some more ideas about how you should deal with this person.

I hope that the above information will be helpful for someone whom is worried about someone with the illness. There's not a lot you can do to help this particular person, but what you can do is without a doubt, better than doing nothing.



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    • savvydating profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you for writing about this important subject. I know someone who is suffering from this condition. This helps me to understand a bit better what both she and her mother are going through. The young girl I am referring to is currently getting treatment with therapists. I hope they can help her and her distressed mom.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for writing this. My 12 year old daughter just last week was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I'm looking for anything I can find to increase my understanding. Thank you again.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      this was really helpful, thank you.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I found this very helpful to help myself understand why I am so frustrated that I can't get through that wall that keeps me feeling frustrated when i can't figure out why i am stuck. life itself damaged me, now i got to figure out how to fix it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Gross stuff

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Gross stuff

    • Truth From Truth profile image

      Truth From Truth 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      this will be a helpful post for many to read.


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