When a loved one struggles with an eating disorder, supporting them through it may feel like it falls on your shoulders. However, the recovery process might be challenging, and it can take a village to help your loved one really feel supported.
Here’s how to support a loved one with an eating disorder:
Educate Yourself on the Specific Eating Disorder
The first order of business when supporting a loved one with an eating disorder is to educate yourself on the specific disorder. Several psychological, emotional, genetic, cultural, and environmental factors contribute to their disorder. You must understand that your loved one cannot stop engaging in harmful behaviors as they might be facing intrusive and obsessive thoughts about weight and food, leading to their compulsive cycle of binging, restricting, and purging.
You also need to learn the jargon and the difference between myths and facts. Eating disorders are not just about weight control or food intake; they are emotional and psychological disorders. Learning more about your loved one’s specific disorder can help you remain understanding and patient. The more you understand their disorder’s physical and psychological impacts, the better and more empathetic care you will provide your loved one.
Offer Practical & Empathetic Support
Always offer your loved one the practical support they might need when struggling with an eating disorder. For instance, you could offer to do their laundry, take them out to the park, arrange transport to and from their appointments, etc. Encourage the individual to follow through with their treatment recommendations without being judgmental and pushy. Maintain an empathetic approach and keep your loved one’s needs front and center.
Ask Them How You Can Help & Be Emotionally Present
When struggling to support your loved one, ask them how you can be present and helpful. Ask them how they are feeling and listen to their needs reflectively. You need to validate their feelings, emotions, and efforts and refrain from being dismissive. Adopt a nonjudgmental attitude to ensure they know that they don’t have to hide slipups from you. If you feel your loved one is acting distant, continue to reach out without being too pushy or aggressive in your approach.
Encourage Professional Help to Develop a Balanced Relationship With Food
You cannot expect familial presence to be enough when supporting a loved one with an eating disorder. Refrain from taking on the role of their therapist and nutritionist. After all, you need to preserve your emotional well-being by setting healthy boundaries.
You must be present in their life as their supporter and let the professionals do their job. Encourage your loved one to seek support from a qualified multidisciplinary team. You can also offer to look for specialists and make the appointment yourself.
At Avalon Hills, we believe in providing people with a “Treat to Outcome” approach. It enables us to provide a treatment plan for sustained recovery from eating disorders. We can help your loved one recover from their disorder and give you the information you need to support them. Learn more here!