Questions Answered

Well, I’m back in Jersey. And I was most vividly reminded of this fact this afternoon on my way home from the mall. A woman driving a black BMW almost hit my mom’s car at an intercession. That is when I was reminded of the difference between New Jersey and Tennessee drivers. I admit that I have certainly toned it down when it comes to my driving since living in Nashville.

Today was an awesome day! I got up at 5 (that would be am, not pm). I thought I was going to take a few days off before Christmas, but obviously decided against it, as there is much to be done. I am looking forward to a few days off after Christmas though. After running, I went to Mass with my mom at 7am. One of the highlights of my day was baking gingerbread men with my little nephew Sean. He had never made gingerbread men before and as he lifted the cookie cutter from the dough he turned to me and said, Aunt Maura look, it’s a guy. I laughed at his adorable remark as he sprinkled the unbaked cookies with green and red sugar.

This evening my parents took me out to dinner to my favorite restaurant in New Jersey. They took me out to celebrate my birthday and the launching of Made in His Image. It was a wonderful evening.

For today’s post I wanted to address some recent questions. Over the past several weeks I have received numerous emails asking for advice about how to approach a friend or loved one about their eating disorder. As always, please remember that I’m not a medical doctor or psychologist. However, through my personal experience and from my years of research on the topic, I have gleaned the following.

If you are concerned about your friend or loved one’s eating habits and or attitude toward food it is essential that you mention your concerns in a loving and supportive manner. Your loved one may already perceive your inquiry as “noisy” and “unnecessary,” so again it is vital that you approach them in a non-treating manner. Here are some steps that may be helpful.

1) Set up a time to talk to your friend or loved one. Important components to remember when setting up a time and place to talk include the following. It is essential that your friend or loved one feel safe during this conversation. For example, don’t go to a busy coffee shop or restaurant to express your concerns. Choose a place that is relatively quiet and private, so anyone sitting close by will not hear the conversation. Your friend or loved one will be very reluctant to share if they know others can hear what they are saying. You could also let them choose the place that is most comfortable for them.

2) Share your concerns in a respectful manner and preface several times that you only desire what is best for your friend or loved one. Gently encourage them to seek professional help for the concerns you are mentioning. Offer to help your friend make an appointment as well as to accompany them on their first visit.

3) If your friend or loved one is in exhibiting signs of denial, gently restate your concern and offer to listen in the future if they would like to talk. Don’t force them to confront their eating disorder, it will not work. If someone is in denial, all you can do is be supportive. If at anytime you are worried for their immediate health and safety, consult a health care professional immediately.

4) It is critical to avoid placing blame or making accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” Or, “If you would just stop binging you would feel better.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.” These statements prove to be less intimating.

5) Express your continued support to your loved one. Remind them that you care for their well-being and desire their health and happiness. Be a supportive and gentle listener at all times.

Another question I have been asked on several occasions is, how do I prevent eating disorders? 

1) Learn all you can about anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Genuine awareness will help you avoid judgmental or mistaken attitudes about food, weight, body shape, and eating disorders.

2) Discourage the idea that a particular diet, weight, or body size will automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment.

3) Choose to challenge the false belief that thinness and weight loss are great, while body fat and weight gain are horrible or indicate laziness, worthlessness, or immorality.

4) Avoid categorizing foods as “good/safe” vs. “bad/dangerous.” Remember, we all need to eat a balanced variety of foods. Also, be mindful of your audience when talking about food/body issues. You never know who is listening and how vulnerable they are.

5) Decide to avoid judging others and yourself on the basis of body weight or shape. Turn off the voices in your head that tell you that a person’s body weight says anything about their character, personality, or value as a person.

6) Avoid conveying an attitude that says, “I will like you better if you lose weight, or don’t eat so much, etc.”

7) Become a critical viewer of the media and its messages about self-esteem and body image. Recognize the lies when you hear a comment or see an image that promotes thinness at all costs. Rip out (or better yet, write to the editor about) advertisements or articles in your magazines that make you feel bad about your body shape or size. Could you imaging how different our society would be if every woman who felt discussed with the media actually stood up?

8) If you think someone has an eating disorder, express your concerns in a forthright, caring manner. Gently but firmly encourage the person to seek trained professional help.

9) Be a model of healthy self-esteem and body image. Recognize that others pay attention and learn from the way you talk about yourself and your body. Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation. Choose to value yourself based on your goals, accomplishments, talents, and character. Avoid letting the way you feel about your body weight and shape determine the course of your day. Embrace the natural diversity of human bodies and celebrate your body’s unique shape and size.