Early intervention can be an essential step in helping to avoid an eating disorder, and so knowing some of the signs and symptoms can be important. It’s also very important for families to have healthy and positive conversations around food, body and weight that are non-diet based and avoid judgment. Avoid judgment based on body size, or the “right kind” of food to eat.
Having regular discussions about body image can be beneficial. Almost everyone can find something about their own body to be critical about, but it’s important to remind ourselves and others of the wonderful things our bodies can do, and remind ourselves that the “ideal” body images presented in media are unrealistic.
Avoid focusing on dieting or losing weight
To help everyone in the family maintain a healthy attitude about food, body and weight, avoid “going on diets” and focusing on losing weight. Instead, talk about healthy eating and the benefits of nutritional foods. Parents should also consider not having a scale in the house.
Practice good mental health hygiene
Stress and anxiety can lead to eating disorders, so practicing good mental health in our daily lives can offer amazing benefits. Examples include learn coping skills, giving adequate time and space in life for relationships, and learning some self-care techniques.
Be mindful of body image
Be positive of your body image as well as with others around you, regardless of their shape or size. Try making a list of some of the favorite things your body allows you to perform (such as swimming or walking in nature). A solid foundation in a positive self-image will help younger people develop good self-esteem and an understanding of the importance of a healthy eating lifestyle in their teen and adult years.
Doctor visits can be very insightful to see if there are any early signs of an eating disorder. During a physical, the doctor may ask you questions relating to your eating habits as well as thoughts on physical image. Regular doctor visits may be a way to detect any early signs of eating disorders.
Express your concern to a loved one or family member if you notice signs of an eating disorder. Be compassionate. This subject can be very sensitive, and others may feel most encouraged when you approach them with kindness and empathy.
Eating Disorder Screening
Do you feel you may be struggling with disordered eating? Are you concerned a family member or friend might have an eating disorder? Healthy Futures offers this FREE online screening to guide you in determining whether to seek further help and/or professional care.
This tool serves as a reference guide and should not serve as a substitute for a professional evaluation. Please call us withning.org/healthyfutures concerns at (480) 451-8500.
Some Dos and Don’ts
Do trust your recovery team. For those working on recovery, your treatment team will sometimes suggest changes that seem overwhelming or frightening. Do listen and trust the process.
Do be patient. Recovery from eating disorders can be a long process and sometime it may feel like “one step forward, two steps back,” but understand the recovery journey is the right place for you.
Do be engaged. Stay social and involved with the family, friends, and co-workers who want to see you healthy and successful.
Don’t do it alone. If you feel you may have an eating disorder, please ask for help. Because eating disorders involve a complicated mix of biological, emotional, environmental and social factors, trying to overcome one alone is extremely difficult.
If you are in recovery, don’t be discouraged if you encounter a setback and slip into old behaviors. This is expected, common and part of the process of recovery.
Don’t obsess over your weight. Weight is one small factor in countless health indicators and is simply a number.
Don’t keep it a secret. Life can be difficult and stressful and sometimes it feels easier to deal with these issues alone. Please talk with someone when life raises your anxiety level.
Reduce Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are common contributors to increasing the risk of developing an eating disorder. Some supplemental approaches that can promote mental repose and increase a sense of well-being are:
- Mindfulness/breathing techniques (DBT skills)
- Massage therapy
- Sound therapy
Here is a quick Progressive Relaxation Technique you can try at home when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Coping & Support
It’s difficult to manage all of the mixed messages you may be receiving by the media, society in general, and even your own friends and family. Please know that the support of your loved ones can be critical to a healthy recovery. Never hesitate to reach out to your doctor or mental health professional to find out the most effective ways to cope with your eating disorder.
Urging a Loved One to Seek Treatment
When challenges arise, it’s human nature to internalize and cope with problems on our own at first. Sadly, the “default setting” rarely involves seeking medical treatment.
The result is that eating disorders can remain unnoticed for quite a long time. It’s important to express your concern if you see any symptoms or signs in a loved one. Do your best to be a good listener, and to remain understanding and empathetic. Recognize that it may take some time for them to open up and share their feelings with you. Remember the importance of listening and being present for your loved one.
Here are some examples of what to look for:
- Constantly skipping meals
- Eating large quantities of food
- Always talking about weight or appearance
- Frequent dieting
- Not eating in front of others
- Extreme fluctuation in weight or mood
- Heavy use of dietary supplements
- Excludes themselves from social settings
- Oral damage from excessive vomiting
- Depression and anxiety
- Negative talk about self-image
If you’re concerned a friend or loved one is showing early signs of an eating disorder, contact your doctor and/or your insurance company to ask for an eating disorder specialist referral.