You Are More than You Eat: Being a Friend to Someone with an Eating Disorder
Not only is March Women’s History Month and the month in which we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it is also Eating Disorder Awareness Month. Eating disorders are far more common than we think,and come in many varieties. The three types of eating disorders that we encounter the most often are anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge-eating.
Anorexia nervosa occurs when one perceives him or herself as being overweight; thus he or she abstains from eating and becomes dangerously underweight. Bulimia happens when a person binge-eats, feels guilty and then regurgitates all the food they just ate. Like bulimia, binge-eating occurs when an individual eats a large amount of food over a short period of time; while these actions are often followed by a strong sense of guilt, binge-eaters do not throw up after eating.
A common misconception of eating disorders is that they only occur with females, but that’s not always true. During adolescence and early adulthood of both males and females, eating disorders become more prominent, which means eating disorders could be occurring around us and we don’t know.
If eating disorders are happening around us, the question is, how can we be a friend to someone who may be suffering with an eating disorder? Here are some tips that will hopefully help.
1. Closely consider all the details before making any judgements about the quality of someone else’s eating habits: It can be terribly awkward to approach a friend about something so personal to find out this is not something he or she is experiencing. Here are some symptoms to look for when it comes to eating disorders:
For anorexia, look for a habit of denying food to a point of self-starvation, with a goal of having a certain body type. For females, it could be losing a certain amount of weight, while for males it could be not eating to attain a certain lean, muscular physique. Some signs to look for are irritability, lack of emotional investment, fear of public eating and social withdrawal.
For bulimia, look for an overuse of laxatives, over-exercising, a feeling of guilt after eating, and not eating for a large amount of time, then eating all at once. After a person suffering with bulimia binges, an overwhelming feeling of guilt will result in them throwing up everything they have eaten. Emotionally, this person may have low self-esteem, feel out of control and feel guilty about food. Looking for physical symptoms of bulimia can be difficult. Most damage happens on the inside, as stomach acids from the regurgitating damage the digestive system as well as teeth.
With binge-eating, one will consume large consumptions of food over short amounts of time, or a person will eat even though they are not hungry, even eating after being full to the point of discomfort. This person is likely to feel embarrassed, depressed, disgusted with themselves and guilty. Physically, this person is not as likely to throw up or exercise excessively.
2. Be a good example. It’s said that we act most similarly to the five people we spend the most amount of time with. If you eat well, display good eating habits and eat a balanced diet, a person with an eating disorder who spends a lot of time with you may be inclined to eat better themselves.
3. Don’t antagonize! Just because you see an issue with someone’s eating habits doesn’t mean that they see an issue with their eating habits. Arguing about the issue is unlikely to yield better results. If this person is unable and not yet ready to acknowledge the fact that their eating habits are detrimental to their health, attacking their emotional and mental health as well as removing yourself as an emotional ally will not help.