Unfortunately, eating disorders are a major problem for all kinds of US adults and teens, especially young women. They are the deadliest of all mental illnesses because they not only increase one’s risk for suicide, but they also take a major toll on the body. Despite the gravity of an eating disorder situation, we often respond by making some pretty big (though completely understandable) mistakes. That’s why it’s so important to talk about eating disorder interventions, how to do them well, and look for the best ways to make recovery happen.
Eating Disorder Interventions Happen Too Late
Families shouldn’t be waiting for something bad to happen before they speak up about disordered eating. Purging, and weight loss means the eating disorder has already progressed to a risky level. Research shows that the earlier someone starts treatment, the better their odds are for experiencing fewer lifelong complications and avoiding relapse.
The absolute best time to start the conversation about eating disorders is when you first notice your loved one struggling with body image issues.
Body Image is a term that refers to the thoughts and beliefs we have related to our weight and physical appearance. Ideally, someone with a healthy body image feels comfortable enough in their own skin to be well. Although it’s very normal to have at least some complaints about one’s appearance, it can be very painful when they become the primary focus of someone’s life. Body image issues can be expressed in the following ways.
- Frequently talking about their weight and making disparaging comments about their body
- Obsessing over seemingly minor, or nonexistent flaws
- Scrutinizing oneself in the mirror for long periods of time
- Frequently expressing envy over another person’s body or appearance
If these things sound familiar in your loved one, it’s appropriate to be concerned about eating disorders.
You can start the eating disorder intervention at this point.
Even if you haven’t seen any weight changes or purging, that doesn’t mean it’s too early to talk. It can be really helpful to open a conversation about healthy eating when these signs pop up before the disorder escalates. However, it’s important to remember to ask questions and be open because lecturing is not always the best way to get through to someone. This brings us to our next point
Eating Disorder Interventions shouldn’t be about Blame
When families go through something painful and difficult, it’s easy to start pointing fingers. Getting upset makes us feel the need to find the bad guy; the person who is causing the problem to happen. As common and natural as that behavior may be, it’s important to remember that if someone is going through an eating disorder, they just need some help at this time.
Finding the bad guy isn’t finding a solution. Starting treatment as soon as possible and expressing extra love, support, and affection is.
There Must be Balance between Physical and Emotional Recovery
Eating disorder interventions can seem complex, which is daunting for most families. That’s because they must be conversations about 2 separate and important health issues: physical health, and mental health.
The physical symptoms of eating disorders are urgent matters which cannot be put on hold. If the following things are happening to your loved one, that means that their health is already being seriously impacted by the disordered eating.
- Missing periods
- Exhaustion, lethargy, weakness
- Lanugo- an extra amount of thin body hair
- Severe weight loss or weight gain (Binge eating disorder is as important as anorexia and bulimia)
- Tooth problems due to purging
- Financial problems resulting from food binges
For some parents, their knee-jerk reaction to eating disorder behaviors is to demand that their child eat more in an attempt to bring their weight back up. Another common situation is for families to set a specific weight goal, boundary, or rule and try to strictly enforce it. These styles of approach can be too centered around physical health and can leave emotional problems unmanaged.
Therapy alongside medical attention is crucial for any strong treatment plan. Families should remember to create balance in their plan of action after having the eating disorder intervention. A professional interventionist can help find that balance between emotional attention, and medical attention.
Eating Disorder Interventions is a Group Effort
Although one-on-one conversations can be a great way to get the ball rolling, we have to remember the important role of community when it comes to eating disorder recovery. Feeling loved, connected, and part of a group are powerful parts of healing.
The whole family, including close friends, should be involved with eating disorder interventions. A professional interventionist can help lead the way so that your family can accomplish more together.
It’s unfortunate that many families struggle and go through quite a bit of pain and sadness with eating disorder interventions. Since they are the first very important step to recovery, it’s important to try our best and get help when we need it.