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Published On: Apr 15, 2024|Categories: Eating Disorder Information, Support|

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the afflicted person restricts their intake of nutrients to an extreme level, causing severely low body weight. People with anorexia may choose to avoid eating altogether, or engage in binge episodes of rapid intake of large amounts of food, followed by forced expulsion from their bodies via induced vomiting or laxatives. Anorexia is associated with a deep fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. Anorexia nervosa can be a long-term condition and in extreme cases may lead to permanent organ damage or death.

How to Support Someone with Anorexia

If you know someone who is battling anorexia, you may feel unsure as to how you can help. Providing emotional and practical support, as well as seeking to support their family, is a good place to start. 

1. Emotional Support

Anorexia nervosa oftentimes co-occurs with other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For all of these conditions, community and relationships are pivotal for deeper healing. Emotional support is a large aspect of accompanying someone with anorexia on their path to recovery. Try these gestures of support to help your loved one cultivate quality connections in their daily life.

Spend time together. Try inviting them for coffee, a meal out of the house, or a walk in the park to help them clear their head. 

Add beauty to their life. Bring them something beautiful for their home, like flowers or a small decor item, to help brighten their space. 

Share something difficult that you are going through. It could come as a relief to the anorexic person that they are not the only one going through a challenging time. Vulnerability breeds connection, so don’t be afraid to share the hard parts of your life with your loved one.

Provide encouragement and affirmation. Celebrate the victories with your loved one, big or small. Whether they tried a new food, went to therapy, or engaged in healthy movement, be sure to notice the steps they take towards becoming a healthier version of themselves. 

2. Practical Support

If you know someone who has anorexia, make sure that they know you are available to support them in any way that you can. Taking some of the load of daily life off their plate is a great way to make them feel relieved and supported. As you decide how to offer your assistance, be mindful that it is important to demonstrate your willingness and availability through action, not just words. 

People going through difficult times often hear, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do;” however, this statement puts the burden of thinking of something, as well as the discomfort of making a request, on the already overloaded person. 

Instead, try offering something specific. Here are some ideas on how to practically support people with anorexia. 

  • Help catch up on laundry, dishes or other household chores that may be slipping through the cracks. 
  • Drop off a meal (and don’t stay to chat unless they ask). 
  • Offer to run an errand like grocery shopping or picking up the kids from school so that they can have an hour added back to their day to spend however they like.
  • Join them in a healthy activity that they wouldn’t make time to do alone, like engaging in their favorite hobby or getting a massage.

If you are unsure how to best support someone with anorexia or their family, try putting yourself in their shoes and imagine what would be most helpful. 

3. Family Support 

Anorexia takes a toll on everyone around the afflicted person, especially the family. If your loved one is suffering from anorexia, you are on the front lines in a battle that may last a long time. Here are some ways that you can support your loved one, as well as ensure that you are taking care of yourself in this difficult time. 

Educate yourself on anorexia nervosa. Understanding what your family member is going through is a huge step in the right direction. When you become educated in anorexia, you have a greater ability to empathize with what they are going through. Anorexia is a disorder of the mind as much as, or even more so than the body, so it is important to be sensitive to different trigger points or activities that may not serve your loved one’s long-term healing. Learn all that you can about anorexia, its causes, its long-term effects, the way how it may be impacting their loved one, and treatment options.

Provide an avenue for open communication. Anorexia nervosa recovery and healing do not happen overnight, so you are in it for the long haul. Make yourself available to provide a listening ear when your loved one needs it, but respect that they might not always want to talk. Learn what topics and phrases could be encouraging to them, as well as what might be discouraging. Avoid the topics of food, physical appearance and body weight.

Find outlets to provide relief to yourself in this difficult time. It is very common for people in primary caretaking and support roles to forget the importance of taking care of themselves. Burnout is a real risk of providing long-term care, but there are steps you can take to keep yourself feeling strong. 

Going to therapy can provide a safe space for you to pay mind to what is going on in your own heart and life amidst the difficulty of immersive care. Family therapy can also help to identify and heal potential contributing factors to the anorexic person’s condition, improving the health of the family dynamic as a whole.

Moderate exercise and movement release endorphins and can allow you to clear your mind, as well as improve your energy levels and overall well-being. Try integrating yoga or stretching into your morning routine, going for daily walks or joining a gym to incorporate movement into the rhythm of your day. 

Find a Support System for Anorexia Nervosa Today

Anorexia nervosa is a very daunting condition, both for those who wrestle with it themselves and for their families. It is not always intuitive how to best offer a helping hand, but Seeds of Hope is here to guide you. Contact us online today or call 610-644-6464 for resources on how to best accompany someone through this difficult time, or for support in your healing journey.

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