- Know the signs of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
- Discuss your concerns with the individual before deciding she does have an eating disorder (i.e., make sure she just hasn’t had a bout of the flu).
- Discuss your concerns with a resource available to you such as nutritionist, counselor or other health professional.
- In discussing your concerns with the individual, be compassionate and open and try to do it in an informal manner rather than a structured interview so that she doesn’t feel you are talking to her as a “professional,” but as a concerned person to whom she can turn.
- In your discussion, convey your concerns about her health and functioning- don’t just focus on weight loss or body size. Let her know the ways in which you may be able to help her (by getting literature or the name of a counselor or nutritionist).
- Have patience- expect to be rejected at first. (It’s frightening to admit you have a problem that is out of control and the thought of giving up the behavior is even more frightening). Make sure you leave her with the impression that you do think the situation is serious and that you’d like to speak to her again about it.
- Throughout the whole process of detection, and recovery, keep the focus on the goal of feeling healthy (physically, emotionally, psychologically, relationship-wise).
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. ( i.e., don’t promise you “won’t tell,” if you feel the person’s health is in danger.)
- Be aware of community resources and what to do in an emergency.
- Know your limits. Do not get over-involved in terms of trying to offer “therapeutic” advice. These are complicated, dangerous, and often difficult- to- treat disorders that generally require a whole team approach to treatment. You do not want to become a substitute for professional care.
- Research options for care and present them to your loved one. Their ambivalence may make them not choose recovery, therefore your patience will be very important.
(NEDA, 1999, How to Help a Friend or Loved One)
Dr. Kakaiya’s experience has been while looking for appropriate help and diagnosis, parents, particularly those of adolescents, tend to attempt to rule out medical issues as a reason for the weight loss. While this is a necessity, it is essential that parents are aware that blood work for severe anorexics may not show too much deviation from the norm. These “normal” lab results tend to fuel the denial of the anorexic.
Dr. Kakaiya believes that if a person receives appropriate, competent care within the first two years of the onset of the eating disorder, they are very likely to recover completely. Getting appropriate help at the onset of the illness is essential and will assist in the recovery process.