Eating disorders are often a long-term illness and the road to recovery can be extensive and filled with stress. During this time, there can be many different influences not only on the person with the eating disorder but the family as well. Studies have been conducted confirming that the many aspects of caring for an eating disorder patient take a toll on the function of the family and add significantly to each individual family member’s distress. In general, findings show that family conflict, as well as the need for social support, affect the family the most. The primary stressor on the family typically is the day-to-day burden of the disease; however, family conflict is the most influential stressor on the function of the family. These issues are similar to the effects caring for someone with a severe mental illness has on the caregiver. The amount of time that is required for caregiving can be overwhelming to the family unit.

A few things to help you and your loved ones during this difficult time are to remember not to place blame, seek help for yourself through a support group or professional, and most importantly, try to be patient during the recovery process. It can also be helpful to educate yourself on eating disorders and share all that you learn with other family members. When you are understanding of an illness it can make it easier to cope with the impact of that illness.
Also, try to keep in mind that some of the effects can be very distressing on all members of the family. What used to be a fun family event can become an intense power struggle when it revolves around food. Things such as family dinners with discussions about the events of the day can become filled with feelings of anger and often resentment. Above all, the stress of knowing that the affected family member may die from this illness can cause severe family strain. Just try to remember that the first step is identifying that there is a problem and the next one is to seek help!

At The Meadows Ranch, we understand just how an eating disorder can affect the entire family system. Understandably, we embrace family members even before admission, as their involvement is crucial to the recovery process. Our family therapy is presented from a skills-based approach throughout the program, including a 5 day/35 hour Family Week. This is a time of learning, growth, change, and forgiveness for everyone, and ensures that the transition back to daily life is successful.

By Kathleen Stephens RN B.S.N., Director of Nursing, The Meadows Ranch