How does one deal with people in their lives who have eating disorders?

I’ve had a lot of people in my life with eating disorders… even an ex girlfriend.

A friend recently brought up her eating disorder to me, and I knew from experience that their’s probably nothing I could say to change things. She’s been in therapy, but I don’t think it’s helping. It’s really hard for her and I feel horrible.

What’s the best way I can “help” her.

(We’re online friends, btw. We’ve never met.)

Thank you guys for the advise!!

I have a colleague at work who is grotesquely thin (and eating disordered, as one of her friends confided to me). We are a friendly bunch and our group of women often have lunch together.

She (Skinny) is obsessed with calories and dominating the conversation by reporting how little she’s eaten that day. The group gets sucked into that female conversation I despise – “OMG! I’m soooo fat!” " No you’re not! You’re teeny, I’M fat!" Everyone is either on the thin side or perfectly normal weight.

I told the other members of our group that “fat talk” is banned at our lunches because it encourages Skinny’s disordered food outlook (I host lunch in my office, so I get to make some rules). Plus – and I told them this – I’m a large woman and the conversation is distasteful. People pretty much abide by the parameters or stop when I give them stinkeye.

Maybe you should look Fussy Eater straight in the eye one day, in the presence of the lunch group, and say calmly, “I am fat. You are not. Your game of pretending to be fat, is very disrespectful to me. Stop it.”

I frankly don’t think there is anything you can do to help someone with an eating disorder. I have known several myself, and experience has taught me that nothing I do or say will help them. When they get to a point where they are ready to accept help, the therapy will be effective. But until they reach that point, nothing anyone else does will make any difference.

Well, first of all, I’d steal their dessert.

Accept that they’re fat (even if theyre skin & bones) but say fatness isn’t a bad thing, proclaim the benefits of fatness and deride skinny supermodels.

I think that’s a great idea and you are right, that talk is just reinforcing her behavior towards food and her body image.

Nothing. Accept them for who they are, eating disorder and all. Such disorders can often become ingrained and immutable aspects of their person.

If you’re talking about the person with the eating disorder, that’s about as helpful as telling a depressed person that they shouldn’t act sad around you because it makes you feel bad.

I think the way she handled it was fine. Tell everyone else not to encourage it, because of her eating disorder.

For helping your friend who is online, but you don’t see often in person, my advice would be not to bring it up if she hasn’t mentioned, but also to not bring up any weight or food issues you might also have. It doesn’t mean you can’t share food pictures on Facebook or Instagram or whatever if you do that. Just don’t initiate one-on-one conversations with her about food or her disorder.

If she does bring it up, just ask her what you can do to help or how you can be of support. Then do your best to do what she’s asked.

Thanks, I’ve actually shut down lunch twice in the last year when the I’m-so-fat chat got really obnoxious. I’m 5’9" and around 175lbs and am perfectly happy in my skin (and fat layer, hee hee), far more comfortable than my slender colleagues. I also get torqued because we’re professors who teach lots of stuff dealing with body image and pressures on women to have culturally conformative bodies. Grrrrrrr.

Sorry to take a left turn in this thread. My gist is that refusing to give Horribly Skinny a stage to perform her play, “OMG you guys! I ate three leaves of kale today, I’m so look fat!” shuts down her pathology (for an hour a day, at least). Eating disorders are complex and often nearly intractable; I’m not, of course, curing Horribly Skinny’s food pathologies, but at least I don’t have to hear shit from her that propels the other women into fat chat during MY lunch.

I have a 13 year old that has borderline eating disorder. I make sure she gets at least a small glass of milk, an egg and possibly a piece of toast or waffle in her every morning. I make sure she takes lunch to school as she hates waiting in line. I ensure she has boxes of granola bars, nuts and other snacks in her locker to make sure there is food. We sit down for dinner. She’s a vegetarian (I used to be). I’ve pulled out my old go to reciepes, bought Bittman’s how to cook everything vegertarian, tought her how to make tofu jerkey, etc. Tonight made my decades old legume oatmeal rice verggie burger instant mix to have ready.

IMHO, make sure the kidlet at least easts something at mealtimes… Stress and Crissis levels go waaaaaaay up if some basic meals dont’ happen.

I get how annoying this is, but I don’t think you get how offensive your post is (assuming she has a legitimate eating disorder).

(spoken as a person who used to work one-on-one with anorexia nervosa sufferers)

One of my close uni friends was borderline anorexic. For her, not eating was a manifestation of wanting to be in control because her home life at the time was utter chaos. She was also a performance major (piano/organ) and played on Sundays for a fairly large congregation, so there was a lot of perfectionist issues along with performance anxiety attached to everything she said or did.

At the height of all this she weighed less than 100 lbs. and had to use some foul-tasting stuff so she wouldn’t chew her nails.

Encouraging her to sit down with you while you ate (we all had given up trying to get her to eat early on) was a crapshoot. If she did sit, it was never for the entire meal. You could feel her nervousness from a mile away.

She was never hospitalized, but in senior year she found a really good therapist, got on some kind of meds, and slowly began eating again. It took awhile, IIRC. The therapist had contacts in my friend’s family’s area, so she did a referral for for some kind of outpatient group which my friend attended faithfully through grad school and probably beyond that.

Disordered eating is almost always less about food and more about attempting to have control over things one cannot control. My friend would’ve added that those who are already prone to anxiety issues are also more inclined to also have some kind of disordered eating.

I personally find talk about food and dieting extremely boring, and never join in. One’s eating habits are about as interesting as one’s sex habits, and I am not interested in either.

Exactly. “You gonna eat that cake? Surely you’re not going to eat all that!”

Exactly, and as you say, and others have alluded to, you aren’t going to change her attitude or cure the illness. I think it’s great that you are comfortable in your own skin. I’m 5’8” and range between 160-165 usually. I’m right there with you, girl!

If Jennshark finds that kind of talk to be irritating, then how is she supposed to react? Would Velocity’s suggestion be okay? Or is Jenn not allowed to react at all? What do you suggest?

Chronic eating disorders (genuine; not “haha, I’m fat”) are one of the most difficult to treat health issues out there. They need to receive therapy specialized for eating disorders, including potential inpatient treatment (can be $$$). You cannot force them to go unless they are willing to get treatment. And as tough as it is, you are not responsible for their disorder. Good luck.

Your one colleague has an excuse, battling a mental illness and all, but your other colleagues who should know better… I don’t get why women eagerly participate in this. And depending on which social circles you run in, you get the sideways look if you’re conspicuous in your refusal to partake. It’s gross.