It’s devastating to watch loved ones struggle with an illness they can’t control, and it’s even harder when you feel hopeless to help them. Unfortunately, millions of us will be confronted with this challenging scenario – one percent of Americans will display symptoms of bulimia nervosa at some point in their lives.
If it’s that difficult for loved ones to come to grips with this sometimes-deadly disorder, imagine how hard it can be for a person trapped in a cycle of repeated disordered behaviors. From the binge eating episodes to the subsequent purges that define bulimia nervosa, a person with BN can feel embattled from within. That’s why, although you as a loved one most assuredly can help, it’s important to be sensitive and do it the right way. Here are 3 ways to intervene correctly, and 3 ways that will make the situation even more tenuous.
How to Talk to Loved Ones about Bulimia Nervosa
DO – Prepare Evidence
Bulimia nervosa may not always result in extreme weight loss, but there are other telltale signs which can help you rationally point out that there is a problem. If you find lots of laxative wrappers in the trash, a sign of using them to purge calories, you can gently point out this evidence when you’re having “the talk.”
DO – Create a Safe Space for the Discussion
Consider your timing. A person with bulimia nervosa normally has conflicted emotions about mealtimes, and a troubled relationship with food and eating in general. When you choose to speak to them about the disorder, it makes sense NOT to do so at a family dinner or at a restaurant. Choose a time and place that makes them comfortable and as receptive as possible.
DO – Listen to What They Have to Say
It’s easy to forget that people with bulimia nervosa, while they do have a mental health disorder, aren’t “crazy” by any means. Often, even though they’re in denial about their disorder, they know something is wrong. While you’re discussing the disorder and its impact on their health, listen to how they respond without judging. They may have felt no one can understand this situation, and by simply letting them get negative feelings off their chest, you might be able to open the door to recovery.
How NOT to Talk to Loved Ones about Bulimia Nervosa
DON’T – Make Accusations or Blame Them
One of the best-known characteristics of bulimia nervosa is a sense of guilt and shame when they binge and purge. Blaming them for their actions can exacerbate these feelings and deepen the cycle. The last thing a loved one trying to help should do is make them feel any worse than they already do.
DON’T – Discuss Their Weight or Attractiveness
Keep the discussion focused on the potential health consequences. Bulimia nervosa is normally accompanied by a distorted body image and perception of weight. Sufferers will often feel that that they’re “fat” or ugly despite all contrary evidence. Saying something like, “But you’re so pretty!” might play into their skewed self-perception and reinforce it.
DON’T – Make an Ultimatum
Saying something along the lines of “stop acting this way or we’ll kick you out” will never work; it will just push your loved one fuather away from you and into the throes of the disorder. Instead of trying to “lay down the law,” consider “DO” number 3 and listen to what they have to say – with no judgment.
Get Help from a Professional
Bulimia nervosa is a complex and nuanced mental health disorder. You can most certainly help loved ones by supporting them and loving them, but it’s extremely likely they’ll still need professional help following your discussion about the issue. Reach out to your doctor or therapist, and see about treatment at a residential or even outpatient facility. It could be the light of hope your loved one was looking for.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CARRIE HUNNICUTT
With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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