Anorexia – How you can help (2)

Anorexia - how to help

This is the second part of Pooky’s post about Anorexia and how you can help any sufferers you may know. 


Eat with them

Ask your friend if they’d like you to eat with them. For some people this would be their idea of unmitigated hell but some people begin to really enjoy food within certain boundaries during recovery. Eating out can be a challenge which we become ready to take on and something we can be more ready to fight for if it comes with the pleasure of a friend’s company. Work with your friend to understand exactly what will feel comfortable and make sure you have lots of ideas of things to talk about to help distract them whilst they’re eating and ensure you have time to be with them after the meal too. That can be a difficult time full of guilt and shame, a friend to distract us or walk with us or reassure us can help. Your friend may have unusual rules around food or may eat very slowly or seem quite emotional whilst eating. Be prepared for this, but if they say they would like you to eat with them, please try not to let these difficulties put you off supporting. It is a huge show of trust if your friend asks you to join them during a meal of any kind.

Watch a film together

Sometimes your friend may want company but not have anything to say or not have the emotional capacity to have a conversation. Suggest watching a film together – go to the cinema if they are up to it, or go to their house with your favourite DVD.   If you are not nearby, watch it ‘together’ by synchronising your viewing and perhaps chatting via messenger during the film. This can be a lovely way of being with someone without the pressure of their physical company or where geography prevents you physically being there.

Lend them a box set

Distraction is a very important part of recovery for many people and for some that can be readily found through TV. If you have a box set you especially enjoyed, lend or recommend it to your friend. It is another way of finding common ground for conversation too.

Walk or drive together

Go for a walk or a drive with your friend. When we walk or drive with people it can help them to relax and open up a little more easily than when we sit together. Walking and driving are also great distractions for difficult thoughts and feelings even if they are done in companionable silence.

Make a ‘mix tape’

Of course, mix tapes are a thing of the past, the modern day equivalent is something like a spotify play list. My friend John sent me a spotify play list this morning and I listened to the entire thing beginning to end knowing that he was thinking of me. I enjoyed the music, but more than that I enjoyed knowing I was in his thoughts. You might choose to tell your friend why you’ve chosen each song. You could put together a play list which is specifically designed to change their mood, perhaps your friend is struggling to sleep so a classical play list might help, or they are anxious and calming music would be good or their mood is low so something cheerful and upbeat may work for them. Or perhaps there are songs that have specific memories relevant to your friendship. Everyone always loved mix tapes, they’re such a special way of showing you care and a playlist can do the same.

Send YouTube video links

Sending your friend videos can be a great way to distract or inspire. My friend Joe has sent me lots of different videos at moments when I’ve needed them. In particular I was inspired by a clip from the West Wing that he sent me which told me that when we open ourselves to others, we may find someone who has walked this path before and can help to guide us and Joshua Prager’s TED Talk which helps us accept that we are a different person when we have suffered a trauma (such as a mental health issue) and helps us consider that this might be a good thing.

My friend Alice, on the other hand, has done a great line in sourcing short videos to make me smile when I feel I’ve forgotten how. These often arrive at difficult points in the day, such as mealtimes.

I hope these ideas make you feel empowered as a friend – or as a sufferer who would like to seek specific support from your friends. Eating disorder recovery is an incredibly hard journey and it is much easier when our friends support us. 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. Thank you to the very many people who are helping to support my personal recovery and please consider sharing these ideas with your network to try and make someone’s day a little better. A little support can go a long way when someone is walking this lonely road.

Good luck and don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, you can make a real difference if you try.

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