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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How to approach someone with anorexia nervosa?

    My daughter is 15 and I think she is suffering from early signs of anorexia nervosa, how do I get help and approach her on this without maknig the situation worse or pushing her away?
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  • The Butterfly Foundation was founded in August 2002 by Claire Vickery who found many ‘gaps’ in the public health system for those experiencing eating disorders. … View Profile

    People experiencing an eating disorder can fluctuate between being agitated, depressed,
    angry and demanding one day, to being afraid, compliant, sad, tearful, and heartbreaking the
    next. Underneath all of these challenging behaviours is someone experiencing intense levels of emotional pain and self loathing.


    Recovery from an eating disorder is a slow process and can take many years. Despite this,
    recovery is absolutely possible. The person you are caring for may take many steps forwards,
    backwards and sideways, during their journey to recovery. Just when you think they may be better, relapse can occur. People with eating disorders can even be frightened of recovering –
    often a hard thing for others to understand. It is important that you be as calm and patient about
    this uneven progression and these thoughts as much as possible.


    Showing that you deeply care for someone experiencing an eating disorder is the best medicine you can give. Unconditional love and support can be the key to someone shedding their feelings of self loathing, allowing them to feel safe and supported in their journey to recovery.


    It is important that you consistently show your loved one that they are special and loved; but not
    because they are sick with an eating disorder. It is too easy to make every request or demand
    possible when someone has an eating disorder, but this is not helpful. It is a delicate ‘juggling act’ to be at once loving, but also firm, about things such as keeping therapy appointments and trying to eat nourishingly.


    It is crucial that every time you talk to the person you are caring for, that you don’t centre all your
    conversations on food and weight. Talk about other things as well with a particular focus on the
    true feelings and emotions that can be hiding beneath the illness you see every day.
    Communicate using open questions which allows someone to explore and express how they are feeling. Open questions start with the words “How”, “What”, “Why” rather than “Are you…”
    “When is…”.


    Make a concerned effort to take ‘time out’ for yourself wherever possible and do things that
    bring you joy, peaceful reflection and enjoyment. This will help you while you cope with distressing and tough times.


    People with eating disorders often find it difficult to express how they feel. They often try to avoid
    all negative feelings and use their eating disorder behaviours as a way of doing this. This may lead to built up and supressed emotions. It can be helpful for you as a carer to help the person you are caring for notice these emotions by paying particular attention to the non‐verbal signs of
    emotional reaction, eg. blushing on the cheeks, teary eyes, hesitation in speech or turning the
    head away. It is important to be sensitive to these emotions as they can be extremly frightening for someone to deal with. Encourage the person you are caring for to voice these difficulties and talk about what they are feeling and going through.


    If you believe you or a someone you know has an eating disorder, seek professional assistance. The Butterfly Foundation has telephone and email support for eating disorder sufferers and their family and friends. This confidential and supportive counselling service is available on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or at

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