What does supporting a loved one with an eating disorder look like? There is no universal answer to this question because there are so many factors – age, nature of the illness, severity of the illness, and willingness of the person to engage in treatment — to name a few. Below you will find six tips that may help you with your attempts to support the person you love:
- Remember that your loved one being in treatment does not mean that now s/he is “all better.” I hear this expectation frequently. Recovery can be a slow process with small steps forward, plateaus, and sometimes steps backwards. My rule of thumb is that the recovery process can take as long as the person has had the illness. However, there are many exceptions to this rule.
- “If only my loved one would change!” This is another request that I hear often. We only can be “in charge” of ourselves. We cannot control another person’s emotions or behaviors. This may sometimes mean that you need to make some changes in your expectations and/or behaviors in order to handle the difficulty.
- The number one role for family members, especially parents, is to be nurturing. Spend time with your loved one – play a game together, watch a movie, take a walk, find activities to share that are not about the illness but about enjoying each other.
- Stay away from body comments. If you want to give a compliment, find some dimension other than appearance to comment on – Ex. So thoughtful or clever when you did such and such. Even if you compliment with, “you look so much healthier now,” your loved one will likely hear, “she just said that I am fat.” You can’t win with this one.
- Unless you are engaged in Family Based Treatment (FBT), refrain from food comments. See point #2 to remind yourself that you cannot control another person. If you try and offer encouragement or ideas on what or how much to eat, you are likely to be met with resistance at best.
- If you continue to be highly concerned about your loved one’s behaviors or state of illness, you can offer to help that person find more treatment help, perhaps even a higher level of care than s/he is currently receiving.