Supporting Someone with an Eating Disorder
Eating Disorders really suck and are incredibly painful and difficult to navigate. They are not just difficult for the diagnosed individual, but for those around them too. Eating Disorders impact EVERYONE they come in contact with; no one is immune. Family members, friends, significant others, co-workers, roommates, etc. are all affected. I have personal experience to attest to this.
Living with or supporting someone with an eating disorder can be incredibly tough, and also incredibly rewarding as you watch them grow and heal. Hopefully there is a chance for you to grow and heal with them. Having compassion, kindness, and knowing how to help can make a huge difference in the life of your loved one. This blog is meant to help provide understanding and encouragement, as living with or supporting someone with an eating disorder can feel defeating and hopeless at times.
Here are some helpful tips:
1. Talk about it! Oftentimes people shy away from the subject for fear of upsetting their loved one or alienating them. Know that it’s okay to bring it up, ask questions, and talk. Let your loved one know you’re there if they need support or someone to talk to.
2. Encourage treatment. Eating disorders are among the deadliest of all mental illnesses. It is extremely difficult to heal from an eating disorder on your own accord, so encourage your loved one to seek out a treatment team, including a therapist, dietitian, primary care physician, and family therapist. Eating disorders are multi-faceted, and a multidisciplinary team is crucial to provide adequate care. Higher levels of care are also available, including Intensive Outpatient Programs, Partial Hospitalization Programs, Residential Treatment, and Inpatient Treatment.
3. Show them love. Eating disorders can make people feel extremely lonely and scared. Let your loved one know you care for them, no matter what.
4. Do not take over their life. Do not become the food police, the bathroom police, the gym police, etc. Individuals with eating disorders need to learn how to take control of their own lives and cope with their stressors in healthier ways. Doing this for them will not help. Providing accountability in these areas will help.
5. Learn. Knowledge is power. Taking the time to learn about your loved one’s symptoms and etiology shows you care. However, don’t overdo it or assume things; ask questions about their specific issues and struggles.
6. Remove any stigma. Individuals with eating disorders face enough stigma (i.e., why can’t you just eat?). Please do not become a part of it. Learn how to be accepting of your loved one without judgment to reduce their shame.
7. Be honest. People can tell when you’re being fake. If you’re scared, hurt, or worried, it’s okay to talk to your loved one with an eating disorder about it. They are not going to break from talking about feelings.
8. Remember that an eating disorder is not just about the food. Food manipulation or control is a manifestation of deeper, underlying pain and suffering. Although adequate nutrition is absolutely necessary for healing, eating disorders go much deeper than the food piece. It’s important not to only focus on food, but feelings too.
9. BE PATIENT. Eating disorders are extremely complex and therefore can take some time to treat and heal. Please be patient with your loved one and keep faith. Eating disorders are treatable with the right support team! Be their rock and hope when they lose it.
10. Take care of yourself. Last, but possibly most pertinent, is the importance of taking care of yourself in the process. Lean into your support system, practice your faith, continue your schedule and enjoyed activities, and if needed; seek your own therapist or support group.
Manna understands how difficult it can be to navigate these disorders, and we are here to help. Manna offers PHP, IOP, and OP services for the diagnosed individual, and individual, family, and group options for the family members/supports. We wish you all the best as you navigate this healing journey, and are here to help where we can!
-Kelsey Sander, LCSW, Director of Family IOP