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Fact Sheet: What You Can Do About Eating Disorders

The following is a list of ten guidelines for anyone who cares about someone with an eating disorder:
  1. Recognize that eating disorders are not simply a problem over "food." Eating disorders have multiple causes, not necessarily having to do with food or weight.

  2. Do not focus on eating and weight. Do NOT say "It looks like you've gained weight" or "It looks like you've lost weight." Do say "You have a wonderful personality" or "You have a wonderful sense of humor." Do NOT compare calorie counts, exercise programs, etc.

  3. When talking to an eating-disordered person, make "I" statements rather than "you" statements.

  4. Do not treat eating-disordered people as lesser people. Continue to invite them places, even if you do not believe they will attend. Letting them know that they have friends who think of them in situations outside of the eating disorder is important.

  5. Know that our helplessness is not necessarily a sign that we should be doing something else; it is a sign that there is a real limit to what we can do to make another person be or feel something else. It is important to remember that while we are helpless over some things—like make someone change—we are not helpless over making our own authentic responses to someone.

  6. Offer human company and empathy. To empathize, we need not necessarily agree with the person's feeling or stance. There is a place for advice, information, experts, recommendations, pep talks, reassurance, distraction, jokes, confrontation. But that place is generally after a person first feels that their experience is understood and accepted for what it is.

  7. Know that people who are in recovery acknowledge the importance of being loved and being believed in. People who are in recovery say that it was important that friends and family members kept trying to reach through to them.

  8. Bear in mind that people with eating disorders yearn to know that someone could both know the worst about them and love them and care about them anyway.

  9. Get support for yourself. Find a friend, counselor or support group. Get information on eating disorders as well to help you understand their experience and to help you know what to expect and what might be helpful. Don't let your newfound information on eating disorders speak for the eating-disordered person you know. Recognize that every person's story is different: different causes, different triggers.

  10. Understand that getting into recovery can be hard, but well worth it!
Sources: Sheila Reindi and M. Suzanne Repetto. "What Should I Do?" 1991. For more information: Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. National Eating Disorders Association

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