Anorexia – How you can help (1)

Anorexia - how to help

My dear friend Pooky has anorexia. She has suffered with for a long time and up until a few weeks ago had it under control. She has had a bad relapse but is fighting her way back through writing. She wrote this especially for this blog so that my readers, who I know have some connections with anorexics, will be able to help and not feel so helpless.  


Following my recent blog post in which I described how friends and family could support me in my current battles against anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression, people have asked if I could provide some follow up advice aimed at particular people. I’m going to start with some ideas about how, as a friend or family member, you can support somebody who is attempting to overcome an eating disorder. I will happily follow up with other posts – please let me know what you’d like me to write about (it is a great distraction for me whilst I recover).

If you have helped a friend, or a friend has helped you, please take a moment to share your experience in a comment as your ideas will make this blog post even richer – also every time someone comments it makes me smile.

Now, everybody is different so do not assume these ideas apply to your friend – but you can use them as a starting point for discussion. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, I hope the ideas here will help you to articulate to your friends how they might help you. One thing I have learnt this week is that we are surrounded by kind and caring people who are ready and wiling to help, but unless we guide them they do not know how. Many people are scared of making things worse, so not reaching out doesn’t mean they don’t care- be brave and guide them and life will almost certainly improve.

Hold their hand

You need to check this as some people shy away from physical touch, but for many of us, during recovery, the sensation of being physically close to others is hugely reassuring. Having our hand held or being cuddled can make life feel instantly better. Eating disorders can make people appear very sick and frail and can tend to result in people shying away from big cuddles and other physical contact. This can feel really isolating. So reach out and hold your friend – but check your friend is okay with it first. If you are far away, telling your friend you are holding their hand in our thoughts can also be reassuring. When they face difficulties just remind them – I’m here for you. I’m far away but you’re in my thoughts and your hand is in mine.

Send text and picture messages

Messages via SMS, facebook messenger, whatsapp and other similar services can be just brilliant. They can be short and sweet and little photos or vidoes of what you are up to or things that have taken your interest can act as the most wonderful distraction for a friend trying to keep their mind away from difficult thoughts and feelings. People sometimes feel guilty for continuing with their life whilst their friend is suffering and their life is on hold. Do not feel guilty. For most people who are ill, reminders of the real world will motivate recovery, will remind them of the world, will give them a distraction and will give them a context for their conversations with you and with others if they see you face to face or talk to you on the phone.

Humour is good.

Don’t expect a reply though – make it clear that no reply is expected so there is no pressure. Little and often is good even if you’re getting no replies – but do check that your friend is happy to be receiving the messages periodically and also be sensitive to times they may be asleep and messages might wake them.

Send a card

Post is a wonderful distractor and concrete proof that someone is thinking of you. It takes little time to pick and send a card but cards will be enjoyed and treasured by many who receive them. You might send a get well card or a card full of words of support and inspiration if you want to, but just as pleasurable to receive is a simple card that shows your friend was in your thoughts. Think of something that would have made you both smile in easier times and send a card related to that – humour can be a wonderful thing in dark times and people often thing we can’t laugh when we’re ill. We can but people often don’t think to try to make us smile. It’s nice to smile, it gives us strength.

Share a book

If you’ve enjoyed a book, pass your copy on to your friend. If they’re up to reading, it will give them a chance to escape into another world for a few hours and it will give the two of you something to discuss. When we’re ill we often have precious little to talk to friends about as we are doing very little other than trying to keep our heads above water from one mealtime to the next (this really is the most draining full time occupation) so having a ready source of discussion is most welcome.

Suggest a meal

This seems so unlikely that I almost didn’t include it but my friend Laura suggested a favourite meal to me that she said was the one thing she could always manage to eat when times were hard and it motivated me to try a new food and to share that pleasure with her (it is on this week’s shopping list Laura!) When we’re recovering from an eating disorder we will think about food a lot and some people will welcome discussions about food and may still seek pleasure in food. If your friend is able to tell you what foods they feel safe eating at the moment you could use this as a guideline. This won’t be a good way of supporting everyone so be guided by your friend. It worked for me.

Please pop back later in the week to read some more of Pooky’s suggestions.

More importantly, please leave a comment with your suggestions, experiences or with general words of support for anyone who may be reading this and in need of encouragement.

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