How to Help a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

When someone you care about is diagnosed with an eating disorder, it can be difficult to know how to help.  Often times you want to offer support, but are unsure of what to say or do.  This can be an uncomfortable place to be. It is improtant to remember that the support your loved one needs may look different than what you had in mind.  Therefore, speaking with and listening to your loved one is vital to their recovery.


At Courage to Nourish Nutrition, we know how difficult it can be for families and loved ones to navigate an eating disorder diagnosis. For this reason, we offer the following advice on how to support your loved one through their eating disorder recovery journey.


Educate Yourself


In order to help a loved one, it is very important to understand how an eating disorder presents and how it specifically presents for your loved one. The media does not always portray eating disorders accurately which results in many individuals not fully comprehending eating disorders and their treatment.  In order to familiarize yourself, please check out our resources page .


Encourage Professional Help


If you do not specialize in eating disorders and their treatment, that is OKAY! There are many practitioners and eating disorder recovery specialists that do. They can provide necessary treatment and benefits to your loved one. Encourage your loved one to seek out this treatment (or do it together) to allow them to have a safe space and contact for their recovery. Individuals in eating disorder recovery benefit from a comprehensive team of an eating disorder dietitian, medical doctor, therapist and/or psychiatrist/psychologist. Courage to Nourish Nutrition has multiple locations in Maryland and Virginia, and virtual options in Colorado for eating disorder dietitians who are ready to work with your loved one.


 Self Care


Supporting a loved one through recovery can be difficult and straining to the relationship at times.  Remember your loved one is not their eating disorder. They are suffering with an eating disorder that may result in them acting unlike themselves at times. Do not react in anger or frustration – it is easier to do this when you also feel supported. Provide yourself with your own support and self-care. There are loved ones support groups out there with open spots waiting for you. Here is one at our practice


 Listen to Your Loved One


Despite being a support system/person, you are not the one experiencing the eating disorder first hand. Your loved one is. Listen to what your loved one tells you and shares with you. Give them space to share what they are feeling and experiencing when they are ready. You may not be able to fully understand their eating disorder. But try and empathize with them and let them know that recovery is difficult and hard, but that you are there for them and not going anywhere. You also may not always say the right thing, but understand that you are not to blame for your loved one’s eating disorder.  Ask what you may be doing that is upsetting your loved one. And do not be defensive about what their answer may be. Continue to work with your loved one and their treatment team to provide the love and support they need.


 Validate, Validate, Validate


Validation is so very important. Validate the negative emotions your loved one feels around food. Then provide reasons why it must be hard for them to go through recovery. Be sure to always remind them you are there and proud of their ongoing efforts through their eating disorder recovery.


Meal Times


During meals, make conversation about non-food related things. Engage your loved one in interesting conversations and fun games. Make meals a safe environment – ask your loved one what a “safe” environment means to them and what helps them during mealtimes.  Try and eat similar foods to your loved one to help normalize their plate and encourage similarity during meals.


Closing Thoughts


Interested in learning more about ways to support a loved one? Check out these resources for more information!


Courage to Nourish is a practice that specializes in eating disorder treatment. We have office locations in College Park, MD, Columbia, MD and Alexandria, VA. We offer virtual services in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado, as well as other states throughout the US. Our dietitians would love to work with you or a loved one today. Please visit our website to read more about our services. We can help! We would love to set up a 15 minute discovery call and answer any questions you may have about working with us. Visit our contact us page to send us an email. 

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sydney richards courage to nourish

Lauren Hirschhorn, RD, LD

Lauren is an eating disorder dietitian at Courage to Nourish. She specializes in working with clients in recovery from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Lauren uses the principles of intuitive eating and Health at Every Size in her work. She is currently holding virtual sessions with clients. To set up a discovery call with Lauren or another Courage to Nourish dietitian, complete our contact form. View Lauren's full bio here.

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