It’s often been said that eating disorders affect the entire family. Nothing could be more true! If you have a family member with an eating disorder, you need to learn a whole new language, and are often left with fears. It’s important to know the terrain. The following tips can also help.
Honor your feelings. It’s normal to have them run the gamut from frustrated to helpless, angry to hopeful. It may seem incomprehensible that the person you love can harm herself by starving or binging. Know that whatever you are feeling is ok.
Care for yourself. It’s easy to get lost in caring for your family member and to lose sight of the fact that your roots are growing out, you haven’t had a decent meal, and you’re exhausted. Not to make light of things, but a little self-care goes a long way to ensuring that you don’t become resentful of the time invested in caring for your loved one. By the same token, don’t neglect other family members. Your second-grader’s school play is important too.
Don’t blame. No one is responsible for the eating disorder, least of all you. Please also avoid the guilt trip. People with eating disorders do that to themselves.
Become a student yourself. Learn what you can about eating disorders. Books such as Life Without Ed are great to provide you with a window into the eating disorder voice. It is important, though, not to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Just because a particular strategy helped someone else, it may not be for your loved one. Offer to share what you’ve learned, but don’t preach.
Be patient. No one wants your loved one to have an eating disorder, and treatment may take time, especially if the person has had it a while. Doctors don’t have all of the answers, and recovery is in large part contingent on your family member making changes. And remember, changes are just that. Growth may include a person who has a new assertive voice.
Encourage responsibility. Although treatment and recovery comes first, allow your family member to also take care of the things they need to, such as communicating with teachers or friends.
Don’t confuse the person with the illness. People with eating disorders sometimes have such a strong need to binge, purge or restrict that they act in confusing ways, such as lying or manipulating. If you see the dinner you prepared so lovingly sitting at the bottom of the trashcan, voice your concerns, but don’t take it as a personal affront.
Give up your role as the food police. Although it may feel better to be in control, this role usually leads to head butting. Ask your family member how you can support them at mealtimes, how to best verbalize concerns, and seek guidance from their therapist.
Get support for your loved one. There are many good therapists who specialize in treating eating disorders. Begin there. If there is a medical need for hospitalization, they can provide resources, such as the ones listed below. Also take advantage of the wisdom of skilled nutritionists, and family therapists.