It is estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder.
This year, Eating Disorders Awareness Week takes place from 26 February to 4 March. 2018’s campaign focuses on asking the question ‘Why Wait?’
On average, someone experiencing eating disorder symptoms waits 149 weeks before seeking help. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days.
But the sooner someone speaks out and gets the treatment they need the quicker they can recover.
“Eating disorders are devastating illnesses that can result in severe physical and psychological distress for the sufferer, having the highest mortality rate over any other psychiatric disorder,” Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, who works with many people suffering with eating disorders, told The Independent.
If you’re concerned that a family member or friend might be suffering with an eating disorder, it can be difficult to raise the issue with them. We often don’t know how to bring it up or are worried we’ll say the wrong thing, even though we’re only concerned for their health.
“Often people with eating disorders deny or don’t realise there’s a problem, but that doesn’t mean they’re not ill,” Lambert explains.
If you suspect a loved one is suffering with an eating disorder, here are five tips on how to go about supporting them through this difficult time.
1. Know what you're dealing with
“Familiarise yourself with the symptoms of an eating disorder, so you feel informed when discussing it with them,” Lambert says.
Once you’ve done your research, pick your moment wisely. “Choose a time to talk to them when neither of you feels angry or upset,” Lambert advises. “Avoid any time just before or after meals and you may find you get a better response from them.”
2. Make them feel safe
It’s important not to make the person feel ambushed so it’s best to talk to them alone, even if there are a group of you who are concerned. “Decide who they are most likely to open up to,” Lambert recommends. “Reassure them and let them know you are there for them.”
Make sure you choose a place where you both feel safe and won’t be disturbed.
3. Don't talk about their weight
Try not to centre the conversation around food and/or weight. “While it may be necessary to bring this up to explain why you’re worried, these may be things they’re particularly sensitive about,” Lambert explains.
The root of an eating disorder is how a person feels, rather than how they’re treating food. Lambert points out that “if you start to question their food intake, they may start to feel ‘attacked’ and are less likely to open up to you.”
4. Be kind
Make a conscious effort not to use accusatory language that may make the person feel backed into a corner. “I wondered if you’d like to talk about how you’re feeling” is a gentler approach than “You need to get help”, Lambert suggests.
And although they may become angry and defensive, it’s important to try to avoid getting angry in response, and don’t be disheartened or put off. “Reassure them that you’ll be there when they’re ready, and that your concern is their wellbeing,” Lambert stresses.
5. Be supportive
“Give your time, listen to them and try not to give advice or criticise – this can be tough when you don't agree with what they say about themselves and what they eat,” Lambert says.
You don't have to have all the answers, you just need to make sure they know you're there for them. Sometimes you may feel like the person is rejecting your friendship, help and support but you just need to be there.
“It is important to remember that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and are not the sufferer’s fault,” Lambert stresses. Individuals who fall victim to these devastating illnesses may have been triggered by uncomfortable events that you may be oblivious to.
“So, above all else it's absolutely essential to make anyone you believe is suffering to feel as supported as possible in order to help them through their recovery.”
For more information, visit eating disorder charity BEAT.
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