Supporting a Loved One Struggling with an Eating Disorder
For individuals who have a loved one suffering from an eating disorder, learning to help and not hinder recovery is a delicate process. Family members can sometimes contribute to the unhealthy behavior, rather than helping their loved one overcome it. How you act and what you say to your loved one during his or her recovery is critical.
If you have a loved one suffering from an eating disorder, here are a few ways you can help:
- Don’t focus on the food: If someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, don’t focus on what she does and does not eat. An eating disorder is not simply about an individual’s choice not to eat or to binge and purge. An eating disorder goes much deeper than that and is most often rooted in emotional stress. An eating disorder is often a coping mechanism developed to help control or distract from a situation that is causing emotional pain. Telling an anorexic to “just eat” could do more harm than good.
- Develop open communication: Work with your loved one to establish a solid line of open communication. In doing so, he or she will feel more comfortable telling you how you can help, and letting you know when something you do or say isn’t helpful. In the same way, building a foundation of communication will allow you to express your concern for her and to be more involved in her recovery. Many times people who suffer from eating disorders don’t feel they deserve help, and therefore they are afraid to ask for help when they need it. In a gentle, loving way, remind your loved one that she can turn to you for help, and show her that you won’t respond with criticism.
- Encourage treatment: If you have a child under 18 who is suffering from an eating disorder, as the parent, you make the decisions regarding treatment and care. Eating disorders are difficult addictive behaviors, and they can be deadly. They should not be taken lightly. If you have a child suffering from an eating disorder, seek treatment for your child immediately. If you do not have parental control over the patient, lovingly encourage her to seek treatment. Seek the help of professionals to organize an intervention for your loved one, which will hopefully lead to their acceptance of help and willingness to enter treatment.
- Take part in family day (or week): If your loved one is in a treatment center where a time for families to visit is offered, do not miss it! This is an opportunity for you to become an active part of your loved one’s recovery. At Shades of Hope, Family Week is offered during the fourth or fifth week of the residential treatment program. During this week, families will learn about addiction, how to set appropriate boundaries and communication, and how to avoid becoming an enabler. During treatment, family week is a time of healing and growth for the entire family.
The most important thing you can do to help your loved one who is suffering from an eating disorder is to be a stable, trustworthy figure in their life. With the guidance of professionals, you can learn how not to enable their addictive behavior, but rather become an active part of their recovery.
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