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How To Help A Friend After Eating Disorder Treatment

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If you have a friend who is about to get out of a residential eating disorders treatment program and will have to adjust back to everyday life, you might be worried about saying the wrong thing or not being supportive enough. Eating disorders can be difficult to deal with (to put it lightly), and there may always be an element of control and monitoring happening for the rest of the person's life. However, there are things you should watch out for and things you can do that will help your friend have an easier transition back into daily life.

Commenting on Their Body

You may be tempted to tell them they look great, but that can be a double-edged sword for many people recovering from eating disorders. Some people don't want others to comment, even if it's a nice comment, because that puts attention back on their bodies. You may want to straight up ask your friend if he or she wants to avoid comments about looks. Sometimes comments are OK if they've been specifically solicited and are about a certain issue, such as whether a new hairstyle works or not. Listen to what your friend wants.

Talking About It

Let your friend know you're open to talking about the disorder, feelings, and so on if your friend needs to chat, rant, or vent. Don't try to bury the topic if your friend needs to discuss it. You don't have to offer in-depth counseling, and in fact, you shouldn't try -- anything like that needs to be discussed with a therapist or the people at the treatment center. But a common problem for people who have been through a traumatic experience is that others around them think that, now that the main trauma (in this case, the evidence of disorder and the treatment) is over, everything can just go back to normal. It doesn't work that way. If your friend indicates he or she needs to talk a little about it, go ahead and listen.

Watching out for Potential Triggers

Most people have some sort of food or behavioral trigger -- maybe you yourself can't keep potato chips around because you end up eating the entire bag in an hour, for example. Believe your friend when he or she tries to avoid certain places, foods, or people because they're triggers. If you think the avoidance is becoming a problem, then you may want to speak to a trusted adult who knows both of you and who can help (like a sympathetic parent who already knows about the eating disorder and treatment). But if your friend doesn't want to go back to your old pizza place haunt because the pizza will bring up some old behavior, don't force them to go to the pizza place.

The best thing you can do for your friend is let them know that you are there to support him or her. You may want to ask your friend's parents to double-check with the treatment center about other ways you can support your friend (the center won't discuss that with you because of patient privacy, unless your friend specifically asks them to). Listen to the staff at the center, and listen to your friend.

For more information, contact establishments such as Eating Disorder Treatments by Center for Change.