Anorexia Nervosa
When someone close to you is struggling with a serious mental health disorder like anorexia nervosa, it can be difficult to process and emotionally challenging. Unfortunately, millions of people have to deal with this situation – one percent of Americans will display symptoms of anorexia nervosa at some point in their lives – and it's so key that they know how to talk to their loved ones about this disorder.

Many people with eating disorders are struggling to express themselves. Even with a loving family and circle of friends, a person with anorexia nervosa can feel conflicted and hopeless. That's why, although you as a loved one can absolutely help (and should!), it's important to be sensitive and do it the right way. Here are three ways you can be constructive when discussing anorexia nervosa, and then three more that might make the situation worse.

How to Talk to Your Loved One About Anorexia Nervosa

DO – Educate Yourself and Prepare to Present Evidence About Treatment

Anorexia nervosa may not always result in extreme weight loss, but there are other telltale signs which can help you rationally point out that there is a problem. If you use this blog and other resources to learn more about anorexia nervosa, you can help them understand their disorder and show objective evidence about the effects it can have. You can’t depend only on logic and evidence to make your case for treatment, but facts never hurt.

DO – Create a Safe Space for the Discussion

Make sure you pick a safe and comfortable time and place to discuss anorexia nervosa. A person with anorexia nervosa normally higher stress and emotional disturbance at mealtimes, and a troubled relationship with food and eating in general. Because of this, it follows that you shouldn't confront them at a family dinner or a restaurant. It’s much better to choose a time and place that makes them comfortable and as receptive as possible.

DO – Listen More Than You Talk

It’s easy to forget that people with anorexia nervosa often feel guilt or shame about their disorder, and feel they’re going to be judged.On the other hand, even though they’re often in denial about their disorder, they know something is wrong. When it comes time to have a serious talk about anorexia nervosa, try to listen to how they respond without judging. Let them express their feelings – it might be the first time they feel comfortable discussing it, and by simply letting them speak, you might be able to open the door to recovery.

How NOT to Talk to Your Loved One About Anorexia Nervosa

DON’T – Make Accusations or Blame Them

One very common characteristic of anorexia nervosa is a sense of guilt and shame about disordered behaviors like fasting or excessive exercise. Blaming a person for these compulsive and disordered behaviors is counterproductive and will help neither of you. The last thing a loved one trying to help should do is make them feel any worse than they already do.

DON’T – Talk About Their Weight or How They Look

Keep the discussion focused on how the individual feels and the challenges they are facing due to their eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is normally accompanied by a distorted body image and perception of weight – it's part of the diagnostic criteria. Saying something like “You’re too skinny!” or “you’re not ugly!” seems like it could help, but these distortions have a way of keeping a person confused. Better to stick to discussing potential health consequences or potential next steps.

DON’T – Make an Ultimatum

If you tell your loved one who’s suffering from anorexia nervosa something like "stop acting this way or we'll kick you out,” it will just push your loved one further away from you. Eating disorders have a way of twisting a person’s cognition into defending itself. Instead of trying tough love or another confrontational tactic, consider "DO" number 3 and listen to what they have to say – with no judgment.

Let the Professionals Help

Anorexia nervosa is a complex and difficult-to-treat mental health disorder. The support of family and friends helps, but, likely, they'll still need professional help following your discussion about the issue. Reach out to your doctor or therapist, and see about treatment at a residential or even outpatient facility. It could be the light of hope your loved one was looking for.