Eating Disorder Treatment: When Someone Refuses Help

Do you love someone who is struggling with an eating disorder? Have you approached her with your concern? How did it go? Sometimes, even the most loving and supportive attempts to help someone go terribly wrong. Resistance to getting help isn’t unusual, especially if the person struggling hasn’t yet faced severe physical consequences. She might agree that she has a problem, but she isn’t ready to let go. She might flat-out deny there’s a problem or minimize it, making numerous excuses for the behaviors that others have noticed. She might be angry and unapproachable. So, how do you help?

image of therapist talking to a young woman about her eating disorderIt is always appropriate to approach a loved one gently and honestly. Before you do this, do your homework. Be prepared to offer treatment options. Admitting to treatment at any level is a step in the right direction but getting the appropriate level of care right from the start will offer the strongest start toward recovery. Unfortunately, willingness and readiness to accept treatment for a behavioral addiction are rare. Whether your loved one seems ready or not, getting help is the bottom line. Long-term recovery from an eating disorder without clinical and medical support is not likely. Here are some tips to help someone find the willingness to get help.

  1. Approach her lovingly in a private setting. If you feel like the presence of another of their loved ones will be helpful, do it together. Share your concerns calmly. The goal of this conversation is simply to create a trusting, open dialogue.
  2. Be a good listener. Is she afraid? Let her talk.
  3. If you’ve already tried this approach and it hasn’t worked, look into getting professional support. Many eating disorder specialists can help mediate these difficult conversations. Assure your loved one that meeting with a professional is not a commitment to treatment. As you know, sometimes we are able to hear things differently from people who are not emotionally attached to us than from someone who is. A clinician will explain the benefits of treatment, what treatment is really like. Through assessment, they can make an appropriate referral for care. Then, the choice is up to her.
  4. Any legal action to admit someone to treatment should be reserved for situations where the person suffering is in immediate medical danger or threatens her own life. Do not threaten this action as a means of coercion into treatment.
  5. People who have struggled with an eating disorder for a long time may be more resistant to treatment than those who have not. Because it is impossible to know exactly what she has felt or experienced thus far, approach with the assumption that there may be things you do not know.
  6. Though she may initially be resistant to the idea of getting help, she may warm up to the idea. It may require more patience on your part.
  7. Emergency treatment is needed when symptoms become life-threatening. Watch for signs of chest pain, severe fatigue, fainting, electrolyte imbalance, and dehydration. If you are concerned she is in immediate trouble, seek medical attention for the symptom and don’t make it about the eating disorder.
  8. Finally, don’t give up. It may go better than you think, or it might take more time. Do not play tough love and give ultimatums. This approach only reinforces her feelings of low self-esteem and value. Stay available to her and love her through it.

Recovery is a long road – a process that begins with the willingness to get help – but recovery is possible. For more information, contact Haven Hills Recovery.

Haven Hills Recovery – Trauma Informed Care for Women