You may have read heaps of literature helping you to assess whether or not your loved one has binge eating disorder. From your research and time spent observing any changes in their behavior, you have determined that there is a strong likelihood that your loved one is living with binge eating disorder. And you’re now ready to get them the support they need.
Before you can put on your superhero cape and refer them to potentially life-saving eating disorder treatment, you need to have the uncomfortable conversation with your loved one to adequately express your concerns and help them understand why treatment is in their best interest.
While you should probably expect some defensiveness, denial and/or anger, do your best to enter this conversation confidently, knowing that they will one day thank you for your support and bravery. Below are some dos and don’ts to help you best frame a productive dialogue:
1) Explore observed behaviors with compassion and curiosity. Binge eating can elicit intense feelings of shame and guilt. Moving rapidly into problem-solving or outlining consequences cannot only potentially increase the frequency and intensity of binging, but is likely to also escalate shame and lower mood. Feel free to use specific incidences that you have personally observed in order to reiterate your concern over the behavior.
Example: “I’ve noticed that you have been taking your dinner to your room and not eating at the table with the rest of the family for the past couple of weeks. When I went to your room to vacuum, I noticed wrappers hidden under your bed. I love you and am concerned. Is everything okay?”
2) Listen. Allow for your loved one to be as open to you about their struggle a feels comfortable for them. Show them that you hear what they are saying, will do your best to understand and are open to discussing further when/if they want to talk.
3) Ask what would be helpful. Nobody knows your loved one better than they know themselves, so allowing them to have agency over how you may be involved in their struggle can reduce feelings of shame. It can also increase awareness around what kinds of things can be triggering for them and help them to start thinking proactively about the types of changes that would be helpful.
Example: “I’m sorry that you’re having a hard time. I’d like to support you in any way that you think would be helpful. I remember you told me one time that evenings are hard for you. Would it be helpful if I came over to cook dinner with you a few times a week after work? We could catch up on Grey’s Anatomy!”
4) Focus on emotions/feelings rather than food. When it comes to binge eating disorder, the food itself is not necessarily the problem. Rather than saying, “If you’re worried about gaining weight, why don’t you just eat healthier,” try doing your best to understand the behaviors around the food. You will probably realize that your loved one’s issues are way more about coping with their feelings (sadness, stress and/or anxiety) than the actual food itself.
5) Take some time for self-care. It can be difficult to support loved ones while they are struggling. Making sure that you taking care of yourself needs to be a priority too. If you are rested and emotionally stable you will be in a better position to be there for them when they most need you.
1) Blame/Shame. It is no one’s fault that your loved one has an eating disorder. Allowing for them to share their experience and struggles in a judgement-free zone can foster insight and reflection on the events, how they impact their life and the aspects they’d like to change.
2) Be the “food police.” Taking away food or pointing out what your loved one is eating will only breed more shame and guilt, increasing the likelihood that they will engage further in disordered eating. Again, asking them how they’d like to be supported is most important.
3) Force them. Recovery from binge eating disorder is possible, but it takes work! That work can only be done when someone is ready to do it. Pressuring treatment can prolong the issue. If you have a hard time sitting back, you can help your loved one by better informing yourself about the disorder and present any resources that you find for them to look over when they are ready.
If your loved one is ready for treatment, or you’d like to learn more about what kinds of treatments are available, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We’d love to hear from you.
Sarah-Eve Hamel, MA is an adult clinician in the PHP and IOP programs in Worcester and the Binge Eating Disorder Coordinator in Milford. She provides individual, family, and group counseling to adults with eating disorders. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Concordia University and her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Assumption College. Sarah-Eve incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in her work with patients. She is also passionate about research and education around the topics of mental health and eating disorders. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family, rock climbing, and running outdoors.