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Supporting those with eating disorders

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and we will be sharing four blogs by our Young and Parent Champions about their experiences. 

Eating disorders are complex issues and it can be hard to watch someone suffer through one, especially when you're unable to understand why it is happening, and being unsure as to how you can help them.

My friend experienced eating problems but luckily is now through the rough patch, and so much better for it. You may be able to spot the signs that their eating is not as usual as it was before. This may include: not eating as often, picking at food or not finishing it, or cutting back on their food intake. Despite this, it can be hard to spot and so, don't blame yourself for not noticing right away –it's more about what you do once you have realised, or they have come to you, that is important.

Listening is always a good place to start. Be aware of how they are feeling, as this can help you to address the issue in a more appropriate way, offering better support, or letting someone know (who you think would be better suited to help them). Quite often, professional help will be required and it's okay not to be the person who is able to get them better – no matter how much you feel like you should be able to. Of course you can help towards their recovery, but there is only so much one person can do on their own – particularly when the thing being dealt with, you have not yet faced.

A good help for my friend was giving her a reason to eat. Around the time that her eating was deteriorating, we were about to start training for a half marathon for charity which entailed a fair amount of running practice. If she wasn't going to have her lunch then (out of safety mainly) we wouldn't run. The determination within her meant that she wanted to do this half marathon and consequently, would eat. Now, I am not trying to say that everyone with an eating disorder 'needs a reason to eat' due to the differentiation between each and everyone's problems however, this is going back to how different methods will work for different people. We are all unique and so the way we are helped needs to be tailored to the individual.

There are also a mixture of ups and downs along the way, as there is with anything in life. With an eating disorder, the bad days tend to approach more and it can be hard (for the close support as well – you're allowed to find times difficult even though you're not experiencing the problem first-hand). A lack of energy causes everything to feel more enhanced and challenging and so inevitably they will have days where they snap a bit. In these situations, although it can be hard to, try your best to remain calm as this will reflect onto the person.

Arguing won't solve anything. Emotions can get a bit on top of both you and your friend or family member. The key (I find) is to take a few breaths, think to yourself why they might have reacted that way or aren't feeling as good and remind yourself that it will improve from this. The last, I believe, is the most important. A reminder that things can and will get better but, due to the complexity of mental health, it may take some time – and that's okay.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, you should, if possible, try to talk to a parent, carer or trusted adult. If talking to an adult is not possible, visit our urgent help page which includes organisations that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

You can also find free mental health support services for young people aged up to 25 on the Youth Wellbeing Directory.

We also have contact details on our urgent help page for BEAT – BEAT provides support to help young people beat their eating disorders.