What to do if you suspect disordered eating

If you or someone you know may be suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to acknowledge it and get a support system in place right away. This is not something that will go away on your own if you try to reshape your thoughts and eating patterns. It’s an illness that demands proper treatment in order to recover. Think of it just like if you got cancer or a broken bone–you wouldn’t “try harder” or think that you would get better on your own. You would seek out proper medical care from professionals that are trained in oncology or orthopedics. Just as with an eating disorder, you need medical care from professionals trained in this sort of treatment.

Eating disorders can cause serious and lifelong damage to your physical and mental health.

Early and comprehensive treatment gives you the best chance for recovery. There doesn’t need to be shame or guilt associated with it.

If someone you care about may be suffering from an eating disorder, you can set up a private time to talk with them. Express your love and concern for their health and well-being. You can state in a neutral way what you have observed that makes you suspect an eating disorder (“I’ve noticed you go to the bathroom immediately after every meal.” or “I see that your weight has dropped and you don’t have as much energy as you used to.”)

Encourage the person to seek professional help. It may be helpful for you to have a list of local resources or providers already in place. Take the stigma away and let the person know this is not a shameful thing, but rather an illness that simply needs medical attention.

When you seek treatment, you will need at least four people on your team. Each medical professional needs to be trained in eating disorders.

  • A medical doctor
  • A registered dietitian
  • A therapist or psychiatrist
  • A support person(s) (family member or friend)

There are many treatment options available, including:

  • Outpatient: Seeing providers regularly in their office
  • More intensive outpatient: Going daily to a treatment center, staying all day, but sleeping in you own home
  • Inpatient residential: Staying at a treatment center for an extended period of time (weeks or months). You sleep, eat, and get treatment here.
  • Inpatient hospitalization: For those who are medically unstable and need hospital care before moving to a different treatment option

How to return to climbing after recovering from disordered eating

Your treatment team will help you determine when it is safe (mentally and physically) to return to climbing. It may be helpful for you to climb during treatment, but your team will guide you as to how much, how often, and how intense.

Work closely with your whole treatment team to make sure you understand what to do to get yourself healthy again. They will help guide you to the point that you are ready to train, compete, and climb again.

Surround yourself with positive people that will support you on your journey. Follow social media accounts that carry body positive messages. Don’t follow accounts that are steeped in dieting culture, strict rules about food, or only feature very thin or muscular people. If a coach tells you to lose weight, says disparaging things about your body, or other people in your life are harming your mental health, time to make a switch and find people that can support you.

Disordered eating can affect anyone at any time. If you feel that you or someone you care about is suffering from disordered eating, seek help immediately. This is not a shameful thing to cover up, but rather a mental illness that needs proper professional treatment, care, and a healthy dose of self-compassion.

Want to learn more? Download this 56-page guide! It’s full of information for athletes, coaches, and parents about eating disorders, RED-S, and all sorts of useful tips. It has information, resources, journaling prompts, and more.