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What are patient-recommended dos and don'ts for being supportive?

This checklist offers some patient-recommended ways to be supportive during treatment. Click here for a discussion and additional recommendations.

Do

  • Provide information on eating disorders and suggest resources for help
  • Speak kindly
  • Listen and understand
  • Be patient
  • Show affection and empathy
  • Remember that the person needs to do the work to recover
  • Be honest and non-judgmental
  • Ask how you can help and do it (chores, transportation, attending therapy with the patient)
  • Encourage the patient to seek help and volunteer to go along
  • Understand what "safe" foods are (the foods that will not make the patient want to binge on or purge)
  • Encourage social activities that don't involve food (e.g., rent a movie, play a game)
  • Encourage activities suggested by treatment providers (i.e., keeping appointments, taking and refilling medications)
  • Understand that recovery takes a long time; food may always be a difficult subject
  • Encourage the person's successes and accomplishments in life and treatment

Don't

  • Don't accuse or blame, that can cause guilt and withdrawal
  • Don't demand changes in weight
  • Don't try to help more than you have competence for
  • Don't try to control the person
  • Don't take the person's actions personally
  • Don't insist the person eat every food available at a meal
  • Don't make the focus of social activities food or clothing shopping, do other things
  • Don't nag or dictate what should and should not be eaten
  • Don't try to scare the person into treatment by listing all the damaging effects of bulimia nervosa
  • Don't be a food or bathroom monitor
  • Don't focus conversations around weight or appearance, even if you think you are being positive


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Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person engages in binge eating (eating a lot of food in a short time) followed by some type of behavior to prevent weight gain from the food that was eaten. This behavior can take two forms: self-induced vomiting, misuse of enemas, laxatives, diet pills (called purging) and excessive exercise, fasting, or diabetic omission of insulin (called non-purging). Some people with bulimia nervosa may also starve themselves for periods of time before binge eating again. Bulimia nervosa has important mental, emotional, and physical aspects that require consideration during treatment.

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