For Family and Friends of Those with Eating Disorders
In part 1 of this two-part series, we discussed the off-handed comments that can be hurtful to those who may have an eating disorder, those at risk for an eating disorder, and harmful to one’s self. In this post, I’d like to focus on the family and friends who are struggling to know how to take care of a loved one who is battling an eating disorder and how they can help.
Watching a loved one go through a disease like this can be very difficult on the ones who care about them. It can be hard to find the words to say or know what to do to help, or if one should even try to help. Listed below tips are from The Emily Program – a facility well known for their treatment of eating disorders. These are designed to help concerned loved ones know how to better care for somebody battling this disease.
Tips on How to Support Those with Eating Disorders
If you are a family member or friend of someone who has an eating disorder or that you suspect has an eating disorder, please read the advice outlined below:
- Remember, eating disorders are illnesses. You didn’t cause the eating disorder.
- Accept your limitations; e.g., you can’t make them want to get better.
- Accept the person for who they are. Remember that they are an individual; they are not their eating disorder.
- Be sensitive and be firm.
- Compliment strengths that have nothing to do with appearance, eating, or food.
- Seek support for yourself.
- Respect how and where your loved one wants their eating disorder discussed. You absolutely need and deserve support, and you can get it while also honoring their need for confidentiality.
- Ask your loved one how you can support their meal plan.
- Plan non-food related activities for the times right after meals, to help redirect attention and energy. Focus on the other things in life, not just discussions of weight, eating, exercise, and food.
- Be a good role model when discussing food, body, and weight—your own and others’.
- Set an example: participate in family therapy (if recommended), talk openly about your feelings, and actively identify and resolve problems.
- Know your health insurance, because you may need to advocate for coverage.
- Listen to your loved one; they need to speak for themselves.
- Convey that you believe in them. Your support is invaluable to your loved one.
- Recognize that recovery is a process. It takes time; it’s seldom logical or linear.
For more information on eating disorders, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or call the National Eating Disorders help line at (800) 931-2237.
Michelle Yates, RD, LMNT, is a clinical dietitian at CHI Health Lakeside Hospital, specializing in the Medical/Surgical unit & the Oncology unit. She doubles as a dance instructor as well as a master’s student for Health Psychology. Her passions are to help others break free from any negative ideas of food they carry, along with opening their eyes to the joys of “everything in moderation”.