Monte Nido® Eating Disorder Treatment Center
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family & significant others
How to Approach and Talk to Someone you Suspect has a Problem

Please refer to the following information below, which will assist you if you have a loved one suffering from an eating disorder. Excerpts from Carolyn's book, "The Eating Disorder Sourcebook".

Pick A Time And Place Where There Will Be No Interruptions And No Need To Hurry. You must allow for privacy and plenty of time for both you and your friend or loved one to say everything that needs to be said.

Be Empathic And Understanding. The first step and most important thing to remember throughout your experience with a loved one who suffers from an eating disorder is to have empathy. The best way to describe empathy is that it is like standing in someone else's shoes. Empathy is an effort to understand someone's experience as they experience it and to convey that understanding. The only way to do this is to not be invested in changing the person or in getting her to change her perspective; that can come later. Before a loved one is going to be able to see another perspective, they will need to know that someone recognizes the legitimacy and importance of theirs. Don't worry that empathizing is not enough and that you need to do something or get your loved one to do something. It is true that if you stop at empathy you can love and understand someone with an eating disorder to death, but empathy is a necessary first step and must be continually maintained. Once a person knows you understand and are not going to try and take over or take the eating disorder away, then you can begin helping in other ways such as getting information, finding specialists, making appointments, reassuring, and even confronting. Just remember that all of this needs to take place after a person first feels understood and accepted. Asking for help is usually one of the hardest things for those suffering from eating disorders to do. They need to learn that asking for and receiving help is not a weakness and they do not need to handle everything alone. Ultimately this helps them to learn that they can reach out to people instead of their eating disorder behaviors to escape from their pain. Even if there are limits to what you can do, they need to know you can help.

Express Your Concern About What You Have Observed And Speak From Your Own Experience. It is important to stay calm and keep to specific personal examples. It is best to use "I" statements rather than "You" statements. Using "I" statements means that it is only in your opinion or from your perspective that you are speaking. Using "You" statements sounds judgmental and is apt to create a defensive reaction. Instead of saying:
"You're too thin," say, " I look at you and see you wasting away and I'm scared." "You have to stop throwing up, " say, " I heard you throwing up and I'm worried about your health." "You are ruining our relationship, " say, "I'm concerned for you and felt like I had to say something or we would both run the risk of being dishonest with each other." "You must get help," say, " I'd like to help you to find help" Be careful not to use "You" statements that are disguised as "I" statements, e.g., "I think you are just trying to get attention." Don't focus all of your discussion on food, weight, exercise, or other behaviors.
It is easy to get caught up and stuck in discussing your loved one's behaviors such as eating too little, not weighing enough, bingeing too much, purging, etc. These are valid concerns and important to comment on, but focusing on behaviors alone can be counter productive. For example, a person with anorexia nervosa will be pleased rather than alarmed to hear that she is painfully thin. Remember, that is the underlying issue, not just the behaviors, which is important. Finally loved ones may be less defensive when approached with the idea that they seem sad, not themselves, or unhappy. They are likely to be less threatened about discussing and giving up these problems.

Provide Information About Resources For Treatment. It is wise to be prepared with helpful information and suggestions in case your friend or loved one is ready and willing to receive it. Try to have the name of a doctor and /or therapist, the fees they charge and how to make an appointment. If a treatment program is needed have that information as well. Ask your loved one to consider going to at least one appointment and offer to go together. (Of course if you are a parent of a minor you will have to go, but you don't need to be in the room when they are being seen.)

Do Not Argue Or Get Into A Power Struggle. Expect to be rejected in the beginning and don't give up. It is very likely that the person you are concerned about will deny the problem, become angry, or refuse to get help. It does no good to argue. Stick to your feelings, how you experience the situation, and your hope that the person will get help.

Accept Your Limitations. There is a limit to what you can do for another person. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that if you said or did the right thing, then your friend or loved one would be helped and you would not feel helpless. There is a lot you can do, but ultimately you alone cannot change the problem or make it go away. You must learn to accept your own helplessness and limitations as to what you can and cannot do, but don't give up. Keep in mind that people often need to hear something several times before they act on it. It is important to remember that your friend or loved one has a right to refuse treatment. If you believe that his/her life is in danger you must get immediate help from a professional. Go to the appointment yourself even if your loved one refuses. A professional can help you deal with a person who is in denial or resisting treatment. It is possible that an intervention can be set up that may facilitate your loved one agreeing to get help.