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Overcoming an Eating Disorder


Eating DisorderReader Darla Aldridge asks:

I have a friend that is obsessed with her weight. She says she is fat, but I think she is way too thin. She looks sick. Has lost a lot of weight. Never has any energy. She doesn’t want to do the things we used to, like play sports and go to the park. She doesn’t seem to eat anymore. Not at school or at my place. She picks at her food. I think she has an eating disorder. How can I help her to regain her health and fitness?”

Phil Owens – Leading Australian Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner

Firstly, I would like to say that everyone needs friends who are watching out for them. Congratulations on being a great friend. If your suspicions are true, then your friend will need your care and support should they want to get better.

The most important aspect that you have mentioned is that you are observing behaviours in your friend that are not ‘characteristic’ of how she used to be, which is creating suspicion. What you propose may or may not be real, so it is vital that you ask your friend about her actions and find out what is really going on with her before you move on.

Start by finding a place and a time when you can have an open conversation. At the dinner table, in school or in front of others may not be the best place. Be clear of your intent and demonstrate your concern and your expectations. Just bear in mind that your friend may not want to discuss her behaviour.

If you friend is open to discussion then follow the OPEN model. Say what you have observed and state only the facts. Do not state your suspicions. Be prepared in advance. Have a list and give specific examples. Engage her in the conversation and allow her to define what she is experiencing, so that she can draw conclusions and express what she understands. The final and most important step is the last point — to express her understanding — as this helps her to define her next steps or what happens now.

If your friend has an eating disorder, then she will need professional help. Hypnotic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (HCBT) has been proven to be one of the most effective approaches. You may even find that your friend is already receiving care, but she has not told you about this. If she is not receiving care, then you can encourage her to seek help, by firstly talking to her family doctor.

Your friend may not even want to disclose what is going on to you. Eating disorders can be intensely private and personal, so be prepared for this. She may even exhibit a negative response. If she does, simply stay calm and continue to express your care and concern for her and state your objective  and observations.

Your conversation must come first. You cannot help until your friend acknowledges that there is an ‘issue’. Otherwise nothing you do can help.

Regardless of the outcome, keep being a great and caring friend, being observant and non-judgemental. Be brave and have the conversation. See where this leads and then progress on from here.

Philip Owens is owner and director of Reflective Resolutions and is a leading Australian hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner based in Melbourne, Australia. Using scientifically validated and pragmatic approaches, Philip is a passionate about creating lasting change in and for his clients.

Working in his clinic with individuals and also with corporate clients, Philip’s international experience, state of the art training and processes have led to successful and happy clients all over the world.  Focusing on the issues of modern life, Philip routinely works with clients presenting with anxiety, fears and phobias, addictions, traumas, weight loss, insomnia and smoking cessation.

Simone Samuels – Australian Holistic Health Coach

Darla, it is great that you are concerned about your friend and it certainly does sound like you need to investigate things a little more with her to make sure she isn’t suffering from an eating disorder. The thing is that with this kind of situation, you need to be extremely careful in how you approach the issue with her. You don’t want to offend her or accuse her, as this might only make the situation worse. People who are suffering from eating disorders usually don’t want other people to know, and they will go to great lengths to hide how they are feeling from those around them.

One way that you could help her is by actually not focusing so much on food, but just her health in general. If you feel like there is a good moment, you could just ask her if she is feeling okay, as you have noticed she hasn’t had as much energy as usual. You could ask some gentle, probing questions, and make sure she understands that if she needs any help that you love her and are there to support her. Have you tried inviting her along to do some exercise with you? If she says no, when you ask, be careful not to accuse her of anything. Instead, ask her again if there is a reason why she doesn’t want to participate in activity with you anymore. You could also offer to make dinner for her one night to help her out, and if she agrees, you could then make a healthy meal together. This could be a good chance to chat to her and find out what is on her mind.

If you do really think she has an eating disorder after having these chats, then it is important that she gets some professional help. You cannot force her to do this, but you can leave her some information to read about eating disorders and counseling or email her some information. But, if you do this, just remember to do this from the standpoint of being a loving, supportive and understanding friend to ensure that she knows you are on her side and not trying to make things more difficult for her. It is really important that she doesn’t feel like you are alienating her, as this is a sensitive issue and she might just deny things and close up to you if she feels that way.

Simone Samuels is an Australian holistic health coach raw food chef. She also comes under the titles of yogini, scuba diver, photographer, fitness lover, writer, world traveller and life adventurer. She believes that being happy and well is a state that everyone deserves to feel, every day. Simone runs the practice Wellness Warung so she can help busy women to reclaim their wellbeing and empower them to feel happy and hot! Simone received her training as a Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s cutting-edge Health Coach Training Program. During her training, she studied over 100 dietary theories, practical lifestyle management techniques, and innovative coaching methods with some of the world’s top health and wellness experts. She also holds a Master of  Education, and worked as a teacher, trainer and tutor for over a decade before transferring her skills to the role as health coach.

Dr Joann Lukin – Sport and Performance Psychologist

Darla, it sounds like you are a good friend to be so concerned about your girlfriend. Certainly the things you have noticed, her lack of energy, not wanting to do the things you used to enjoy together and her changes around food, are all areas of concern.

An important point about the eating disorders — particularly anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa — is that in addition to their physical symptoms and behaviours, they are a psychological condition. So it isn’t possible or appropriate to diagnose an eating disorder simply by looking at someone. Rapid weight loss, feelings of lethargy, and loss of interest in usually fun activities may be symptoms of eating disorders, but they could also be caused by something else.

Whatever is happening for your friend the most important thing you can do is to continue to be concerned and offer support. You could talk to your friend about the changes you have noticed and express your worry. Give her an opportunity to talk to you, if she is willing. If your friend does have an eating disorder, a referral to a qualified practitioner is what will be of most help to her. Perhaps you can offer to go with her to see her GP. If she is resistant to your offers of help you could talk to another significant person for her, such as a parent or sibling, and see if they share your concerns. If they do, perhaps they can assist her to get some help.

If it transpires that your friend does have an eating disorder, remember your role is the very important one of being her friend. It is not your responsibility to help her regain her health and fitness, but you can certainly be there to support if that’s what she requests.

Sometimes people panic if a friend is diagnosed with a mental illness such as anorexia or depression because they don’t want to do the wrong thing. The best thing you can do is share your support for your friend and let them know that you would like some guidance as to how you can best help them through this time. Keeping communication open and honest is one of the best strategies.

Dr Lukins is a psychologist who has specialised in sport and performance psychology for over 20 years. During that time, Dr Lukins has consulted individuals, teams, coaches, and organisations across the country. She is committed to the field of positive psychology — a scientific framework that studies human potential and happiness. The primary focus of her work is to assist clients to find strategies to achieve their goals and reach their potential. Joann’s work helps clients to understand what makes them be healthy, fulfilled and focussed on their personal well-being.

Nick Jack – CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Personal Trainer

This is a delicate subject and care must be taken to not force your opinion on your friend or what you perceive as the right strategy to help her, even if your suspicions are correct. The trick is to have your friend believe it is her idea to make changes to her life and that it is her idea to take on a new approach and not yours. If she feels that you are forcing her to make changes it will have the opposite effect and exacerbate the problem.

So rather than focus on if she has an eating disorder or not, I suggest that you use the same method I like to use for this type of scenario, which is to start by asking your friend some questions such as, “What makes you happy?” and “What do you like doing that is really good fun?” You can use these questions to find out more about your friend and what she is thinking.

Once you know the answers to these questions, you are well on the way to helping your friend find happiness. Only a person who is happy can have enough reserves or energy to want to change or improve their level of health.

Now that you know what makes her happy, you can help her to create a calendar so she can make time to participate in her fun activities. Use Outlook to plot specific days and times when she can participate. You can do these activities together if you like, this way as her friend you are supporting her in a way that not only holds her accountable but also builds trust in you to help her overcome her weaknesses.

Once you have started with happiness you must address the biggest question of all, which is
“What is your dream lifestyle?” Now this is where you can help her think it is her idea to get healthy. To help your friend answer this question, because it is such a big task, you can ask her to describe her dream lifestyle. She can visualise it, then describe what clothes she is wearing, who her friends are, what her skin looks like etc. Your friend needs to be specific.

Someone who can visualise their dream lifestyle will often see a happy, healthy person. If you can help your friend to visualise her dream lifestyle, then you will help her to make her dream a goal, especially if she is sick, because her dream will most likely include GETTING HEALTHY.

Just to recap, to help your friend I would encourage her to start looking at these two important issues:

1. What Makes Her Happy

2. What is Her Dream

She then needs to continually take part in what makes her happy and to review her goals every day.

Let your friend know that you are a part of her “Dream Team”. You are helping her by not telling her how to get there. Personally, I have found that I have great success with the people that I show the path, rather than trying to force them down the path.

I hope this helps Darla.

Nick Jack is a qualified CHEK Exercise Coach, Level II Holistic Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer. He runs a personal training business called NO Regrets Personal Training.

Nick likes to lift weights, cycle, run and triathlon. He has played almost every sport at one time in his life. Now, he enjoys spending time walking his dog and relaxing with his wife and friends.

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Disclaimer: The information published in this column is based on each of the author’s own professional and personal knowledge and opinion. This information and opinion is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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