Supporting a loved one through an eating disorder may be one of the most challenging things you are faced with. It is extremely difficult to see a loved one suffer, while feeling at a loss for how to best help. Eating disorders impact the entire family. It is imperative that you understand you are NOT to blame, and neither is your loved one. This article is meant to help guide you in how you can best support them through this time in their life.
Here are some helpful tips and things to consider when supporting your loved one through recovery:
It is crucial that your family member have a full treatment team, which includes an eating disorder therapist, eating disorder dietitian, medical doctor and possibly a psychiatrist. Ask to be involved in your loved one’s treatment.
They are not the eating disorder.
Throughout the course of your loved one’s recovery, keep in mind they are not the eating disorder. They are suffering with an eating disorder, that often times appears to have hijacked your loved one.
Taking good care of yourself throughout this journey is imperative. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. Finding a support group for loved ones can be a great addition to your support system.
The road to recovery is imperfect.
Keep in mind slips will happen along the way. Remind your loved one they are not alone. Check in with them daily. Ask them what you can do to help. Also ask them what you may be doing that is not helpful.
Open communication is key.
Express concerns when they come up. Hold the hope for them, that full recovery is possible. Being a good listener is vital. Validate their feelings while showing compassion. This can be difficult when emotions are running high and you are experiencing fear yourself. Support and feedback from a loved one is often met with anger, frustration, and denial. Never promise your loved one that you will keep their eating disorder a secret. Eating disorders are manipulative and thrive in secrecy.
Other helpful keys to remember:
- Don’t comment on your loved one’s physical appearance. A common compliment people give to someone recovering is “You look so much healthier now!” Your loved one often times hears this as “you’ve gained weight.” Try saying “It’s so good to see you. I love seeing you smile!”
- Focus on positive personality traits and other qualities that have nothing to do with their appearance.
- Avoid talking negatively about your body, as well as bodies of those around you. Try modeling gratitude for your body. “I’m so grateful my body was strong and resilient enough to deliver three amazing babies!” (Check out our blog post on how to improve body image here for more ideas)
- Model a balanced relationship with food and exercise. Eat a variety of foods and don’t talk about having to “earn” your food through working out.
- Don’t moralize food. This includes not labeling food as “good/bad” or “junk/healthy”
- Arrange activities that don’t involve food that you all can participate in together. Plan a movie or board game night, where everyone can be together, and your loved one doesn’t have to stress about food.
- Avoid difficult topics around meal times. Meal times are challenging as it is. Typically keeping meal conversations casual is best.
- Remember how stressful this is for your loved one. Having an eating disorder impacts every aspect of their life. It is not as easy as telling them to “just eat”.
Interested in learning about more ways on supporting a loved one? Check out these resources for more information!
- What are eating disorders? by NEDA
- The Parent Toolkit by NEDA
- Family Support Guidelines by Eating Recovery Center
If you are looking for additional guidance to help support you or your loved one through an eating disorder, reach out to Courage to Nourish Nutrition at email@example.com.
Bobbi Boteler, RD, LD, CEDRD
Bobbi Boteler, RD, LD, CEDRD is an eating disorder dietitian in private practice in Columbia, MD. Bobbi specializes in treating individuals struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). She practices from an intuitive eating model. Bobbi is passionate about family nutrition and especially enjoys working with kids. She is a Health at Every Size © advocate and anti-diet dietitian. Bobbi provides eating disorder nutrition counseling in Columbia, MD, as well as virtually.