This chapter is recommended for those who are actually not suffering from any eating disorder, but have an eating disordered family ember, friend, classmate or colleague. I decided to create a little list of ideas and tips - just in case you don't know what to do to make the situation better, or at least easier to survive.
I hope I needn't explain it more: an eating disorder means horrible suffering, no matter how stubbornly the patient neglects or hides it, no matter how stubborn his/her affection is to the sickness. (In reality, this is quite the opposite: the eating disorder can have a stronger affection to you than you have to it... but this is another question.)
In aim to not make it worse for the patient, it is very important for you to understand what it means to live with an eating disorder. Understanding makes it easier to cooperate and help your eating disordered one.
If you really wish to help, you will need to spend time and energy on learning about eating disorders. It does not only mean that you have to know all the details on E.D. - you also have to know the eating disordered patient better. If you really want to help him or her, then you need to know: what makes him or her motivated? What makes him or her desperate? Why does (s)he "do" this? What can you do for him or her, and - this is extremely important - what is (s)he willing to accept from you?
It is easier to hurt, break or make an E.D.-ed person feel totally hopeless is much easier than to do the same with a so-called "normal" person. It is much easier than ypu would likeably think. A very drastic and perfectionistic attitude is what lies beneath this "irrational" sensitivity. In E.D.-ed state of mind, you cannot see things in other than "pure white" or "pure black". Any given thing can be "acceptable" (in everyday praksis, this happens only if the certain thing, in reality, is nearly perfect or perfectly perfect) or "absolutely unacceptable" (anything can get into this category what is not perfect.) This is why you have to know why "innocent" comments or attitudes can be very dangerous or destructive for an E.D.-ed person.
Never, ever try to force the patient to eat!
I am very serious about this. Under no circumstances should you force-feed an eating disordered one, since this can do very bad damage. Let me explain why!
I have said this a few times - and I will probably have to say it a few more times, because many people seem to have difficulties in remembering this - an eating disorder, in reality, is not about food! The origin of the symptoms is always somewhere else than "eating habits".
You also should know that everydays of an anorexic person - no matter how bad or less bad his or her physical condition is - are ruled by very serious compulsions. These are "commands from inside", and therefore are always stronger than the outside world's demandings. It is relatively easy to please others by faking, pretending to eat (while we immediately start to consider how we should get rid of the food we are actually eating), but we can never pretend or cheat on the commands and compulsions which come from the inside! We feel the bad conscience and guilt, and we cannot do anything against these feelings! If we try to please our family members who want us to eat, this means that we disobey these inside commandments. This feeling is extremely hard to endure if you are living with such a sicky conscience. Every forcefeeding will probably result in lesser or bigger self-punishment. I admit that this is hard to imagine with a sane mind - this is why I ask you to think how hard it is to endure feeling like this 24/7 (and not going insane!)
An anorexic person's one and only resource of achievement, satisfaction and fulfillment is starvation. This is why force-feeding can induce an extreme amount of anger, resistance and rage: your anorexic will feel that you want to take this only resource of delight and success from him or her.
Do not make jokes.
Please, do not make jokes. I beg you not to make jokes. I am very serious about this: please, never make jokes about the E.D.
Yes, I know that many people think that an anorexic person have lost all his/her sense of humour and is very bitter. This is why I ask you not to make jokes. Even the so-called "normal" people dislike being joked, so... if an anorexic - as it is "well-known" - has no sense of humour, jokes can make us feel even worse.
I remember that once I could hardly resist the temptation to turn the table on someone. She did not know about my E.D., though she commented that I had lost much weight. Later - I cannot remember what the context was - she said with the intention of saying something funny "it must be good to be anorexic, imagine how much money can be spared on food!" Well, I have a quite strong sense of morbid humour, yet I could not find this statement funny. Even if I was not involved in the question, I would never try to make jokes on any sickness which can be terminal. I think I would have deserved a Nobel peace prize, because I did not joke back saying "the money we spare on food is spent on diet pills and calorie-free soda." .
Comments like "drink that mineral water with a straw, this will help in burning more calories!", or "be careful, those three leaves of lettuce might make you gain weight!" are similarly destructive. No matter what we show, most of us are perfectly aware of what is happening to us. Therefore, it is needless and damaging to mock our misery.
Never, ever comment an anorexic person's figure!
If you say you are worried because (s)he has lost much weight, and it is bad to see his/her protruding bones - (s)he will take it for a compliment and a success, and therefore will be motivated for further starvation.
If you say it is good to see that she has put on some weight, (s)he will take it for a failure, and the despair (s)he feels over it will make him or her motivated for further starvation.
Do not be neglecting.
Consider it, very thoroughly. Confessing this to ourselves is very hard. Confessing this to someone else is even much harder. If thereafter you state "I do not even want to hear about this crap any more!", then you likeably will indeed not... hear about the E.D. any more, because everything will happen in the deepest secret, behind your back.
Males should consider...
Eating disorders, in general, are not exclusively a "female problem". Even if most E.D.-ed patients are female. (Otherwise, males can develop eating disorders too!) Furthermore, one very common reason and risikofaktor in developing an E.D. is a too sharp distinction between "boyz and girlz" in the near environment. So, if you who are actually reading these pages, are a father, boyfriend, husband, brother or friend of an E.D.-ed female, I honestly recommend that you should educate yourself in this area. Do not read only this site, read other E.D.-related sites too. If you happen to read about any detail which raises your attention, then google it! And, try to understand the things you learn. E.D.-s include many things which are hard to speak about, but worth - sometimes very important - to know about.
Do not try to be clever all the time.
Our self-esteem is somewhere between "incredibly low" and "non-existant". Preaching will make it even worse for us. Do not try to be clever. Try to be kind.
Convicting is not the right thing to do.
It is especially hurtful to convict your E.D.-ed one with that "you use it as a weapon to blackmail everybody around you!"
You possibly feel that your E.D.-ed one controls you or the whole family by his/her E.D.-ed behaviour - but please, never forget that an E.D. means a bigger control - should I say a bigger terror - to its sufferer than to the environment. If I wanted to be cynic, I would say: if you feel bad about the thing, then try to imagine how bad it can be for the person who has to feel its direct effects.
Be prepared for that recovery will not happen from one day to another.
(Furthermore, a very common and natural part of the recovery process is "one step forward, two steps back".)
If you have read the other chapters of this book, you have likeably learnt that no-one develops an eating disorder overnight! The same goes for recovery. The whole E.D. is based on many years of stress and maladaptive coping mechanisms - to "unlearn" these mechanisms is not easy. So, do not expect a quick fix. There is not a quick fix for an E.D. So, do not try to make the patient "hurry", because this might result in an extra amount of guilt, which - ironically - may lead to more serious E.D.-ed behaviour. It is way too easy to starve, once you have the routine in it.
I cannot emphasize this enough: never try to make your E.D.-ed one eat!
This does more damage than you think. If you do so, you can expect one of the following options:
a.) "I am NOT willing to eat, you conspired to make me FAT",
b.) Okay, I do not want to hurt anyone, so I will throw everything up secretly
Of course, if the patient can see his/her condition clearly, and has decided to do something against it - then it is good to help him or her not to stay alone with the doubts about food.
Torturing an E.D.-ed person with keeping his/her favourite foods in the fridge or in the pantry is one of the worst ideas.
As long as an E.D.-ed person is not ready for recovery, his/her favourite foods mean the following:
1.) Suffering. There are the loved foods in the kitchen, and there is the terrible compulsion inside: "you must not touch it!..."
2.) If (s)he managed to resist the temptation: "I am a hero, I could overcome my vile, primitive desires and instincts, I did resist!" - This might mean further motivation for going on starving.
3.) If (s)he does not succeed in resisting the temptation: bitterness and self-blaming are guaranteed. "It is incredible, how could I be so primitive and greedy that I would eat all the time!? Such a primitive pig has to be punished!" - I think it is easy to guess what comes next...
Avoid emphasizing the question of "achievements" and "expectations".
Even the tinyest mentioning of this can lead to the feeling of "I am a failure, I am worthless" - and this may lead to relapse, or to the stabilization of the actual symptoms.
E.D.-ed patients are usually very good at hiding their feelings. It can easily happen that you made an E.D.-ed one hurt or totally broken, and (s)he did not show anything of these feelings!
Think about Karen Carpenter... she was known as a gifted vocalist. In reality, she considered herself as a drummer who could sing (they say that she was one of the best female drummers of her time.) But, since the audience wanted a Karen who sings, and not a Karen who plays the drums, she did her best to please the audience. I remember reading about that one of her LP-s was such a great success that it had to be re-released. Karen insisted on recording all the songs again, because she thought her voice had developed so much since the first recording, now she could have done it much better.
When I read about this, I was absolutely not surprised - perfectionism, the urge to please others, and doing the best one can... this is so typically anorexic -, but I really felt for her. Maybe she would be still alive if she had been allowed - and supported in - doing what she really wanted to do? I also think that the conclusions speak for themselves, so I avoid over-explaining the thing.
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