A person with an eating disorder may show resistance to getting help or to admitting they have a problem.

Many people can be ashamed of their eating and/or exercise behaviours and they can have strong fears about people discovering their habits or about being judged. You can help them by remaining supportive, positive and encouraging.

The importance of seeking help as soon as possible cannot be overstated. There is strong evidence that the earlier help is obtained for someone with an eating disorder, the shorter the duration of the disorder and the greater the likelihood of full recovery.

This is true in all cases, but especially important in children and younger adolescents. In these cases, it may not be feasible or even advisable to wait for the consent of a young person before seeking help. If in doubt, it is better to act on your concerns and seek help straightaway by speaking to an experienced eating disorder professional.

Knowing who to talk to

While GPs may not be formally trained in detecting the presence of an eating disorder, they are a good ‘first base’ for discussing your concerns.

In addition, there are many clinicians with specialised knowledge, including medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, dieticians, counsellors and occupational therapists, who are all specifically trained to help people with eating disorders. You can speak to any of these professionals before approaching the person you care about or before organising an intervention or conversation.

Remember that it may take time to find the right treatment and the right therapist to meet the needs of the person you care about. Everyone responds differently to different types of treatment and your doctor or specialist will advise you on which treatment they feel may be most beneficial.

You can offer further support by giving the person with the eating disorder the time they need to find and respond to the recovery program that best suits them. The best type of treatment is one that is long-term and focused on the needs of the person with the eating disorder and their family or circle of support, with recovery as the ultimate goal.

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