As part of our support community on Slack, we regularly invite mental health leaders to do open and honest Q&A sessions with our members. We discuss topics surrounding mental illness coping and recovery, advocacy, reducing stigma, and more.
Elizabet Altunkara is the Helpline Manager at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). She has been with the organization for four years and continues to work with her team to build a robust training for Helpline volunteers to provide quality services, as well as expanding the Helpline’s reach over various platforms to help individuals and families struggling with an eating disorder. Elizabet is a licensed master social worker (LMSW) who also has experience in the treatment of eating disorders. She has received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Princeton University and her master’s degree in social work from Columbia University.
How do I help a friend who is undiagnosed but refuses to eat due to physical illness with their appearance (they believe they are fat when they are perfect)?
It is really great that you want to support and help your loved one through this difficult time. There are many ways to support your friend through this. We have great resources on our website and you can check this page out: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/help/caregivers
What are some ways to prevent triggering someone who suffers from eating disorders?
This is a great question! The best way to prevent triggers is to have an open conversation with the person who is suffering. All triggers can differ and it is important to ask how to support people individually.
Is purposely skipping meals an issue?
Yes, skipping meals is concerning and one way to figure out what’s going on is taking our online screening. You can find it here: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool
What is the most impactful advice you’ve been able to pass on to helpline volunteers as you train them on how to support others?
Another great question! “Just listen without judgement and be there with the caller” is one of my top tips for our volunteers.
How do I know if I have an eating disorder?
The best way to know if you have an eating disorder is to see a professional who specializes in these issues.
What are the best quick tricks and tips to avoid disordered behaviors like binging? For example, what are some things you can do before and during a binge to stop, even if your ED is making you feel like you don’t care?
Unfortunately I won’t be able to give specific advice on how to avoid behaviors, However, self-care activities tend to be helpful.
How do you learn to not let the thought of weight gain affect your desire to try fear foods and higher calorie meals?
Having a support system is super important! And sharing your concerns with people who would understand.
What about those of us who cannot afford treatment and support groups and have no way to see a healthcare professional? I want to recover, but unfortunately money plays a big factor.
What you are dealing with is so common and such a valid concern. We have a lot of callers contacting us for affordable care options. Free support groups are always a great option even though they don’t replace professional help. Scholarship and sliding scale fees are sometimes available too.
What kind of foods/diet would you recommend for someone who is trying to gain muscle and stay healthy but struggles with eating normal sized meals?
Since meal plans are individualized it’s really important to get guidance from a nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders.
How do I tell my partner that I’ve been with for a year and cares for me dearly that I dislike it when he uses words like thick, curvy, and plump?
The best thing would be to have an open conversation with your partner to express how these words make you feel.
I struggle with IBS and if often makes me have limited appetite. I feel sick to my stomach even thinking of eating. I am also on a low FODMAP diet. What advice do you have to help me prevent this from becoming an eating disorder.
It’s great that you recognize that restriction and diets can feed into eating disorders. It would be helpful to speak with your doctor about this concern and warning signs you may be experiencing.
Hi Liz. I struggle with switching between having no appetite, to wanting to eat everything in the house. I also have a fear of gaining too much weight back and getting back to my highest weight. How can I get myself on the right track?
It is really important to identify your triggers and come up with a list of coping skills for when you have urges to use behaviors.
Can you tell us a little bit about eating disorders in the context of other countries? I’m curious how eating disorders are discussed or perceived in countries besides the US, such as in Europe or Asia.
Eating disorders do not discriminate regardless of where the person is from. However in some countries and cultures this is a taboo subject or people may not realize that their community could be affected by eating disorders too. We do get individuals from all over the world contacting us and we try to direct them to the ED organization in their country when available.
What other countries would you say have the most resources available to help individuals with eating disorders, and what countries could definitely use more resources? I’m asking because I know the culture around food and diet can vary so drastically between regions of the world and what might be considered a “eating disorder” in one country might not be so in another country.
Countries like UK, Australia, and Canada have organizations similar to NEDA that offer resources and support. Since eating customs and beauty ideals differ across the globe, it’s important to connect people with resources in their country for culturally competent care.
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful questions today! Before I go, I would like to pass on NEDA’s Helpline contact info. You can call us at 800-931-2237 or chat with us online: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline or through Facebook Messenger. Have a great day!