Eating disorders don’t just happen to individuals. They impact family and friends as well.
And while loved ones want to help, it can be hard to know how to best support someone battling an eating disorder. Why not start here?
Educate Yourself – Eating disorders are not merely about not eating or vanity. It’s important to understand that an eating disorder is a coping strategy that the individual uses to deal with problems that may be too painful to deal with directly.
Be Patient – When you approach the individual for the first time, do not be surprised if they reject your expression of concern. They may even react with anger and denial. There is a lot of shame and pain that goes along with having an eating disorder. It’s also important not to rush the person, and instead recognize that it will take time for the person to make changes. In the end, the decision to get help is theirs.
Be Compassionate – Eating disorders are a complex problem, and food and weight issues are only symptoms of something deeper. It’s important to understand that the person would prefer to have healthier coping mechanisms and is doing the best they can at the moment.
Be Encouraging – Encourage the person to see themselves as more than their eating disorder. Do this by talking about other aspects of your lives, and of life more generally. Affirm their strengths and interests that are unrelated to food or physical appearance.
Be Non-Judgmental – It’s important to express your own needs in the relationship, without blaming or shaming the other person. Support them by validating the healthy changes that the person does makes, however small they may be.
Set Realistic Expectations – Recovery is usually a painful and challenging process, and patients don’t return home from residential treatment “cured.” Full recovery takes time, and slips may occur. This is not the end of the world and does not mean then need to go back to square one and start the recovery process all over. Only if eating-disorder behaviors become the norm day after day does it indicate someone is probably headed for a relapse.
For more advice on how to help support a loved one with an eating disorder, read our blog post “Seven Things NOT to do When a Loved One has an Eating Disorder.”