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How to Help Someone With an Eating Disorder

Updated on September 25, 2012

Eating Disorder Image

What an person with an eating disorder sees!
What an person with an eating disorder sees!

Mandy's Story

Mandy sighed in disgust as she looked in the mirror. Her hips were fat, her stomach pudged out, her face was round. She hated the way she looked. She hated trying on clothes and hated the thought of how others might look at her. What did they see? She had gotten on the scale this morning and that depressed her even more. One hundred sixteen pounds. Yesterday morning she was one hundred fifteen. She had weighed herself last night and the scale said one hundred sixteen, but usually that means that the morning number will be lower, but not today. She weighed at night to be prepared for the morning's number. She wanted to lose to at least 110, but if she could get lower, that would be even better. Maybe then she'd be happy.

Mandy started out this tumultuous road about 6 months prior when she weighed about 135. On her 5'6" frame, it was indicated that this was in the "normal range" for her, but she decided that losing about 5 pounds would help her to be healthier. It was close to Spring Break, and there was an amazing bathing suit that she really wanted to fit in to. She began to exercise daily, ate smaller portions of food at each meal, and the weight began to slowly come off. A pound here, a pound there, and people started to notice and tell her how good she looked. That encouraged her to keep up the good work. She reached her goal of 130, five pounds less than she began, but, wouldn't she look even better being smaller, losing just a little more weight? Her weight began to even out and she lost less per week than at first, with some days not losing any. Maybe if she only ate two meals per day and exercised a little harder. As this began to pay off for her, she decided she could live on one meal per day if that was what it took to look better, lose more weight, be happier. She added an additional workout to her schedule as well. The weight came off for a while, but she hit a plateau again. What was she doing wrong?

Soon people stopped telling her how good she looked and instead began to look at her with worried eyes. What were they so worried about? She was trying to make herself healthier, right? Happier. But...looking at herself in that mirror just depressed her. She saw fat and it had to go away. Yesterday she had eaten a small salad with no dressing and an apple. She had exercised twice for about an hour each time, but that didn't work. She had gained a pound. It must have been the salad that did it. Today she wouldn't eat that much. Maybe just the apple. She had tried to purge by making herself throw up, but she just couldn't do it. She had heard that laxatives helped to get food out of your system as well. Maybe she'd try that. Just for a bit until she lost the pound she had gained, or maybe a little more. You see, the more she lost, the happier she would be, right?

What Are Eating Disorders?

Mandy's story is all too real for many women and men today. The constant desire to look better, feel better, and ultimately be happier. In today's society, we are bombarded with ads, images, of thin women and well built men with huge smiles on their faces, and the ads insinuate that if we just looked like these people, we'd be as happy as they are, and we believe them. But, this thought pattern, this desire to achieve perfection, can ultimately lead to an unhealthy eating pattern, an eating disorder.

There are two main types of eating disorders (overeating/binge eating will not be discussed in this article), anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia is significant weight loss defined by a person's refusal to maintain a body weight at or above the minimum indicated healthy weight for the person, the person's fear of becoming fat or losing control over their eating habits, and disturbance in the way body weight or shape is experienced (anger, sadness, depression over thoughts of gaining weight or being fat). There are two types of anorexia, resricting type and binge eating or purging type (restricting food, but when the person eats, they use laxatives, vomiting, or diuretics to purge). Signs of anorexia include obsessive exercise, calorie or fat gram counting, starvation, and persistent concern with body image. Bulimia is the second type of eating disorder. This is a disorder characterized by eating large quantities of food in a short period of time, then using vomiting, laxatives, or diuretics to get rid of the food. Someone dealing with bulimia may use the behavior to escape from feelings like depression, anger, stress, or anxiety. Signs of this disease include overeating, worrying about body image, engaging in strict diets at times, and going straight to the bathroom after each meal. In regards to both disorders, the person tends to have low self esteem and a tremendous need to control their environment and emotions. Many who deal with eating disorders are victims of physcial or sexual abuse or other traumatic life circumstances where they have felt out of control.

What Can I Do To Help?

Many people will encounter some dealing with an eating disorder. Many reading this either have an eating disorder or know someone who does. So what can be done to help? Here are some suggestions:

1. Please realize that it is not as easy as telling the person suffering the disorder to "just get over it", or "you're not fat, you're just right". The person is seeing themselves through distorted vision and words will not be enough to change the faulty perception.

2. Approach the person in love and tell him or her your concerns. Be ready for denial, but open to helping, encouraging, and walking through the process with the person. Try to understand that an eating disorder is a disease and can not be quickly cured.

3. Realize that the person has to be ready for help. They have to choose to recover and no one can make them until they realize they have a problem. Listen, Listen, Listen, and when they are ready, you can be ready with information on counselors and/or support groups.

4. If serious health problems arise and you notice any of the following: black outs, extreme sensitivity to temperatures, chest pains, tingling in hands or feet, blood in stool or vomit, stomach pains, or uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea--get the person to the hosptial. These could be signs of a more serious health condition as a result of the eating disorder. It is possible if untreated that an eating disorder can lead to death.

5. Continue to be supportive through the treatment process. Realize that a person can overcome an eating disorder, but there is not really a "cure". There may be relapses or at minimum, struggles at times, but with support and treatment, the person can succeed.


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    • TripleAMom profile image

      TripleAMom 5 years ago from Florida

      Hippie-girl-- so glad you were able to break free fairly quickly. Its very hard to do when your mind becomes so out of control. Thanks for reading.

    • Hippie-Girl profile image

      Janelle 5 years ago from Oklahoma, USA

      You really did a great job here portraying this all-too-real reality that people, both men and women, struggle with everyday. This became an issue for me when I was in 8th grade due to the influence of a friend that was in the same situation. It did not last, but looking back and that and then seeing that so many people struggle with it for years and years; some not to make it through, but slowly kill themselves. It very sad, but you've made a great article of awareness. Cheers.