Christina Grasso is a writer, editor, and social media consultant in the fashion and beauty industry, and co-founder of The Chain. The Chain is a New York-based, not-for-profit peer support and mentorship program for women in the fashion and entertainment industries who are struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder. It was founded in December 2017 by Christina Grasso and Ruthie Friedlander, both in recovery from anorexia, after they encountered a need for a support network that addresses the challenges in eating disorder recovery unique to the fashion and entertainment industries. Christina lives in New York City with her cat, Betty, and her vast collection of Stevie Nicks vinyls. As part of NEDA (National Eating Disorders Awareness) Week, she shares her advice on what to do if you think someone you know might need help.
Eating disorders are tricky. In one sense, they are like any other illness in that a person never chooses to be afflicted, despite stigmas that may suggest otherwise. But on the other hand, they’re also a bit of an enigma, because beyond treating any resulting medical complications and addressing the psychological roots of the disorder, a person must find it within him or herself to actively choose to get well, rather than being passively healed. But making that choice is often one of the most difficult parts of the whole process, and there’s really only one thing that makes it a tad easier: support.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and support can take many forms. I know this well because I’ve struggled with anorexia for over 15 years and can say, personally, the tough love approach has always worked best for me. When I was at my sickest, a few of my close friends intervened even though they knew it could potentially violate my trust. At the time, I was pissed at them. Now, of course, I am forever grateful to their persistence—it saved my life.
As an eating disorder survivor and advocate, one of the questions I am asked the most comes from people who are at a loss trying to help a loved one who is struggling. Below, find five ideas of ways to support someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. They may help, or they may not; the most important thing is that you try. It’s only through showing up and doing so with intention that we can contribute to healing.
ONE. Remind your friend you will be by their side (and then stay there!). EDs are incredibly lonely and impossible to overcome without support, even though it can be exhausting and frustrating for all parties involved.
TWO. Avoid talking about weight, food, dieting, calories, and the like, and similarly, do not comment on your friend’s weight (loss or gain) or appearance. Even comments such as “you look so much healthier!” in recovery can be extremely triggering.
THREE. Don’t try to force your friend to stop using behaviors—leave this to his or her treatment team. Otherwise, he or she will only use compensatory behaviors (e.g. purging, exercising, etc.) later on.
FOUR. Offer to help with accountability if you are willing. Have a meal or snack with them, or for example, encourage them to text you once they set a goal and achieve it (e.g. completing a challenging snack).
FIVE. At the end of the day, the death of a friendship is so much better than the death of a friend. That’s dark, but whatever. EDs are extremely lethal, so never hesitate to tell a trusted adult if your friend refuses help. They may resent you for it in the moment, but will thank you one day (I know from experience). Nobody ever regrets recovery.
SIX. Take care of yourself, too. Your health and well-being is equally important, and as natural as it is to want to help someone you care about, ultimately recovery can only come from within. Your job is just to love them through it.