Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa

How to help someone with anorexia nervosa

How to help someone with anorexia nervosa 2000 1335 Team Mindsum
Last updated: 6 January 2021

It can be challenging when you have a loved one that struggles with an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa. Especially, as it is a mental health disorder that also affects the person’s physical health. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to help. These are discussed below.

Understand anorexia nervosa

It is a good idea to read as much information about anorexia as you can. Understanding anorexia and how it works can help you to recognize the ways that your loved one is affected and the ways you can help.

To read more information about anorexia, you can view our pages on anorexia nervosa and getting help for anorexia nervosa.

Help them to feel supported

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder that can make your loved one feel extremely isolated, because others can have a hard time understanding their difficulties. It is important to make sure that you try to understand how this is a problem for them, so that they feel understood and supported. To do this, you can:

Show acceptance: They are most likely struggling with negative and often critical thoughts about themselves. One of the best things you can do is to remind them that they are valued and loved, no matter what.

Separate the person from the disorder: This is very important. It is good to remember that the person is not the disorder. This will allow you to have less feelings of frustration and resentment towards your loved one, because it is not their fault. Your loved one can also recognize that they are not the disorder and can feel less guilty about it.

Be persistent: When supporting a loved one with an eating disorder, it is common for you to receive a lot of resistance. This might happen when you are trying to encourage them towards healthier eating habits or inviting them out to a social event. Try not to feel discouraged and continue to encourage and invite them, even if they refuse.

Help them to find the right support

Encourage them to find support through a GP or therapist. If this involves your young child, you can contact these services. You might:

  • Help them to search for a therapist

  • Help them to book an appointment with a GP or therapist

  • Offer support when they attend appointments (e.g. waiting in the waiting room or attending some sessions if you need to)

  • Help them search for support groups or self-help resources

  • Encourage them to keep attending sessions and to not give up

Know when to get urgent support

When your loved one is dealing with anorexia nervosa, it is good to keep an eye out for signs of self-harm or suicide. If you suspect that your loved one is at risk of hurting themself, you should get them immediate support.

You should contact a GP or the NHS urgent helpline.

Ask them what they need

They may or may not to tell you what they need, but it is always good to ask. They might let you know other ways that you can help them. This way you won’t have to figure it out on your own.

Support them during mealtimes

Mealtime is the most stressful part of the day for a person with an eating disorder. It will be helpful for them if you find ways to make this time less distressing, without enabling the disorder. For example, you might:

  • Plan the meals with them in advance, so that they feel less anxious during mealtime

  • Involve other siblings that can help to distract them

  • Have neutral conversations that do not involve weight, shape or dieting

  • Encourage them to do an enjoyable activity during mealtime (e.g. colouring, watching TV, doing a puzzle)

  • Reassure them that you are there for them

Be patient in difficult situations

When supporting a loved one with an eating disorder, it is common for them to respond with resistance by being  angry or shutting down. It is important for you to not take this personally and realize that it is the eating disorder that is being challenged. Here are some ways that you can manage these situations:

  • Give them some space until they calm down

  • Try to resist the urge to respond back in an angry tone

  • It is reasonable to express your frustrations, but try to do it while they are absent

  • Take some time out to compose yourself during these difficult situations

  • Encourage them in a calm way without putting too much pressure on them

  • Take the time to come up with creative ways to encourage them 

Look after yourself too

It is extremely important for you to look after yourself. Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, you will be in a better position to give help, as long as you are taking care of your own well-being too.

To read more about looking after yourself, see our page on self-care when helping someone else.

List of useful resources  

MIND
To read information about helping someone with anorexia nervosa on the MIND website, you can click here to access the link.

Beat eating disorders

To read information about helping someone with an eating disorder on the beat eating disorders website, you can click here to access the link 

Young Minds

To read advice for carers and parents of young people with eating disorder on the Young Minds website, you can click here to access the link.

Click here to get free advice from our experts

Anorexia getting help

Getting help for anorexia nervosa

Getting help for anorexia nervosa 1000 667 Team Mindsum
Last updated: 4 January 2021

This article covers:

– What types of therapies are involved?

– What types of professionals are involved?

– The journey of recovery from anorexia nervosa

What types of therapies are involved?

Psychological therapies are important when treating anorexia nervosa. It is used to help young people to improve normal eating behaviours and reduce body-image disturbances. There are two types of therapies that can be involved. These include anorexia-nervosa-focused family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders. These will be discussed below.

Anorexia-nervosa-focused family therapy (FT-AN)

This type of family therapy focuses on helping family members to play a role in the young person’s recovery. There is strong research evidence that shows FT-AN to be effective in treating anorexia nervosa in adolescents.

 

The idea behind FT-AN is that the family is the main source of recovery. Therefore, by joining forces and standing up against the disorder, they can help their loved one to overcome it.

 

In FT-AN, the family members are given the task to get the young person to eat enough to gain weight and continue to grow. The therapist will help parents to learn the best ways to supervise and encourage this process. Eventually, with the help of the family, the young person will be able to take steps towards recovery from this disorder.

 

Cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders (CBT-E)

This is a specialized form of cognitive behavioural therapy that uses different stages in treatment to change the behaviours that keep the disorder going. Research shows that it is effective in helping adolescents with anorexia nervosa to successfully regain weight.

 

The idea behind CBT-E is to target the eating habits, behaviours and thinking processes that form the eating disorder. The sessions can involve stages such as psychoeducation, learning to cope with emotions, monitoring, behavioural changes and planning for the future. Parents might also be involved in the sessions to play a role in helping the young person to take steps towards recovery from this disorder

What types of professionals are involved?

 

There are different professionals that may or may not be involved throughout the treatment process of anorexia nervosa in young people. These might include psychotherapists and doctors/psychiatrist, dieticians, mental health nurses, support workers and social workers. These terms might be confusing, but the main difference is in the training that each of these professionals have received. 

Psychotherapists: Psychotherapists provide an in-depth approach by exploring the history and causes of certain behaviours and emotional issues. The psychotherapist will then treat the anorexia nervosa in this specialized way. Here at Mindsum, we have psychotherapists that are available to provide support.

Doctors: These are professionals that are trained in medicine. This will likely be the family GP, who might find it necessary to prescribe certain medications that might help the young person to cope with physical conditions due to the eating disorder. 

Psychiatrist: These are professionals that are also trained in medicine. However, they also specialized in the field of psychiatry. So they are able to provide consultation and medication for a wide range of mental disorders. They might provide medication to help the young person to cope with other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as they recover from anorexia nervosa.

Dietician: These are professionals that specialized in nutrition. They give education and advice on nutrients and the way these are important for health. They are able to provide meal plans to help the young person to stop unhealthy eating habits and to regain weight successfully.

Mental health nurses: Nurses trained in mental health might also be involved with the young person. If the young person is admitted to a hospital, a mental health nurse will care for their physical needs and monitor their psychological health. They might also administer medications prescribed by the psychiatrist.

Support workers: Workers trained in helping vulnerable people to live better lives might also be involved with the young person. This might be within a community setting or a crisis situation. Their role is to provide emotional and practical support (e.g. helping parents to cope, helping with paperwork, making child-care arrangements).

Social workers: Workers trained in protecting vulnerable individuals might also be involved with the young person. This might also be within a community or a crisis situation. Social workers will problem-solve and organise the right support for the young person to ensure their protection.

The journey of recovery from anorexia nervosa

The journey of recovery from anorexia nervosa can look different for each young person. For most people, the recovery process takes place over several months or years. Below are some things that are expected when going through therapy for anorexia nervosa.

Assessment

This is an important phase, where the psychotherapist will get a feel of what is going on. They might ask questions about eating habits along with other important background information. This will help to create a full picture of what is going on and to know what type of treatment will be most helpful. 

Therapy sessions

These sessions will take place with a time and regularity that suits the needs of the young person. An important aspect of the therapy session is the relationship that the psychotherapist will build with the young person and family members. The young person and the family will team up with the therapist to find the best ways to tackle the eating disorder. This might involve specialised techniques for managing emotions, mealtimes and thinking processes related to food and body-image.

Homework 

This is an important part of treatment for anorexia nervosa. This is because anorexia nervosa affects everyday situations in the young person’s life, especially at home. The family as a whole might be assigned homework to help the young person to complete their meals. Homework tasks will allow the young person to practice and have better chances of gaining weight and tackling the eating disorder.

Progress and setbacks

When having treatment for anorexia nervosa, there will be progress and there may be setbacks. It is common for young people to relapse and start engaging in restrictive eating habits again during their recovery. It is important not to feel discouraged when this happens. These situations provide opportunities to discover new ways to move forward together with the therapist.

Ending therapy

When treating anorexia nervosa, this stage is very important. The therapist might help the young person and the family to develop a relapse prevention plan. This will help them to take steps to prevent the eating disorder from becoming a problem again. The end of therapy will take place once the young person has made a lot of progress or has completely recovered from the eating disorder. The young person and the family will leave therapy with many skills that they can use without the help of the therapist.

Follow up

There might be an agreement with the therapist to have a follow-up meeting. This is to check how the young person and the family is coping. If they are doing well, there will be no need for more support. But if they continue to have challenges with the eating disorder or any other issues, this will be an opportunity to have extra support.

List of useful resources

Anorexia nervosa

To read our information on anorexia nervosa, you can click here to access the link.

Recovery from an eating disorder

The Beat eating disorders website has useful information on the process of recovery from an eating disorder. To read more, you can click here to access the link.

Mental illness and recovery

To read our article on mental illness and recovery, you can click here to access the link.

Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy

The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful document on different aspects of therapy. To read more, you can click here to access the link.

Click here to get free advice from our experts

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa 2000 1333 Team Mindsum
Last updated: 4 April 2021

What is anorexia nervosa?

Causes of anorexia nervosa

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Treating anorexia nervosa

List of useful resources

How Mindsum can help?

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that affects the bodyweight because the person restricts the amount of food that they eat. This is also due to an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted view of their body shape.

An eating disorder is not a lifestyle or a personal choice. It is a complex illness that needs specialist treatment. Although it is more common in young adolescent girls, it can affect people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and background.

It is important to recognize the signs of anorexia nervosa early on. If left untreated, this disorder can lead to death due to starvation or suicide.

Causes of anorexia nervosa

There is no specific cause for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. It is likely due to a combination of genetic, neurobiological, psychosocial and sociocultural factors. These are listed below:

  • Hormonal imbalances

  • Being overweight as a child

  • Being in a society, group or workplace that emphasizes the need to be slim (e.g. dance group, modelling, athletics)

  • Having anxiety, depression, low self-esteem

  • Having a tendency for perfectionism

  • Bullying/criticism about body-shape or eating habits

  • Family history of an eating disorder, psychiatric disorder or substance misuse

  • History of sexual abuse

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