Getting Help for Someone with an Eating Disorder

Written by Kimberly Holland | Published on November 26, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on November 26, 2014

Getting Help for Someone Who Has an Eating Disorder

Managing and overcoming an eating disorder is difficult. People who have eating disorders often experience obsessive behaviors along with other mental and emotional symptoms that can act as barriers to treatment. Breaking this cycle can be hard without help from professionals and a strong support network of friends and loved ones.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder don’t be afraid to seek out help. Untreated eating disorders can lead to a variety of negative health complications, and in some cases, even death.

How Can I Encourage a Loved One to Seek Treatment?

People with an eating disorder may be able to hide their behaviors from friends and family members for many months and even years. Unfortunately, that makes it harder for them to get medical treatment.

If you suspect your loved one has an eating disorder, urge them to speak with their doctor. Be prepared that your encouragement may not always be well received. People often experience shame or guilt because of an eating disorder. They may not want to give up certain habits for fear of gaining weight. Be patient, but reaffirm the need to seek help. Though they may not be willing to admit to you that they have a problem, talking to a professional may pave the way. For some people, it’s easier to talk to a doctor or other professional about the behaviors and thoughts they are dealing with.

If you are concerned that your child may have an eating disorder, make an appointment with their doctor. Call the office before the appointment to let them know why you are bringing your child in to be seen. Your child’s doctor may be able to help you pinpoint the cause of any unusual behaviors. If they do suspect an eating disorder, they can refer you to a specialist or mental health professional.

How Can I Determine If My Child Has an Eating Disorder?

Many children experience phases of picky eating. As they get older, boys and girls may also try diets to lose weight. This is not unusual behavior.

If you begin to notice that your child’s newly adopted “diet” behaviors are potentially harmful, you may want to make an appointment with a registered dietician or nutritionist. They can help teach your child about the importance of eating well.

Behaviors associated with an eating disorder in children include:

  • eating only a few “safe” foods. These foods may be diet foods that are low-fat and low-calorie.
  • creating rituals around food
  • adopting a rigid meal plan
  • planning and creating elaborate meals for others, but not eating them
  • persistently complaining about physical appearance
  • refusing to eat in public
  • spending unusually long periods of time in front of a mirror
  • wearing baggy clothes because they feel “fat” in more form-fitting clothing
  • using over-the-counter weight-loss drugs, laxatives, or medications that can cause fluid loss or vomiting
  • hoarding food secretly
  • leaving during or shortly after meals to use the restroom
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