Parents and caregivers trying to support a loved one with an eating disorder can often feel overwhelmed and scared. Eating disorders are complicated. We understand how difficult it can be to cope with the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder in addition to navigating when and where to seek help. While treatment is critical, there are many things that you can do to support your loved one at home that can make a major difference in your loved one’s recovery journey.
HOW TO OFFER SUPPORT
1. Start the Conversation
Although this may sound like a simple task, we know how challenging it can be to bring up emotional subjects like an eating disorder, even with the ones closest to us. To set the stage for a helpful conversation with your loved one, make sure you are in a private, comfortable, and quiet space.
First, try to express what behavior changes and concerns you notice using “I” statements. For example, “I am noticing you are not doing the things you used to enjoy”, “I notice you are more tired than usual”, and “I am worried about you”. Avoid using “you” statements such as “you are putting your health at risk” or “you can’t be doing this if you want to play sports”. Any communication starting with “you” can feel like blame and prevent your loved one from sharing what they are experiencing with you.
You can additionally try to validate your loved one’s experience and offer unconditional support. Validation can go a long way in making someone feel heard and seen. Validating statements might sound like “Wow, I can see how hard this has been for you”, or “I can see how much this has been impacting you”. This lets your loved one know that you are truly listening and empathizing with them.
Lastly, let them know you are there to support them unconditionally. Just knowing there is someone non-judgmentally listening to their experience can make all the difference on the road to recovery from an eating disorder.
2. Engage in Non-Food related activities
So many activities in life involve food. For most, these can be fun, like getting ice cream on a hot summer night, going out to dinner for your friend’s birthday, or grabbing a coffee with a coworker.
For a person struggling with an eating disorder, these food-based activities can be really scary and anxiety-provoking. As a result of these fears, the window of comfortable activities becomes very narrow. Life can start to feel small.
In an effort to help and support your loved one through this difficult time, engage in activities that do not involve food. This could be going to the movies, crafting or starting a project, having an at-home “spa day”, or doing puzzles. Doing these types of activities can help your loved one have more positive experiences throughout the day and widen their life outside the eating disorder.
3. Understand the Recovery Process
In our experience, we know recovery is a process and not perfection. There are going to be slip-ups. At times, your loved one might use behaviors such as restriction, binging, or purging as they move through recovery. Unlike addiction, where clinicians work with clients to avoid substances and triggers, we cannot do the same when it comes to food. Our bodies need nourishment several times throughout the day. For someone in recovery from an eating disorder, this can be mentally and physically exhausting. The sooner you, as a loved one, can understand the process of recovery from an eating disorder, the more helpful, loving, and supportive you can be.
4. Support Yourself
It’s great that you want to support your loved one with an eating disorder. By doing so, you have already proven you are an important person in their life.
Keep in mind that caring for someone with an eating disorder can be challenging, and the road to recovery is sometimes rocky. Make sure you also have support for yourself and are engaging in regular self-care activities so you can remain a solid support to them.
We created the Parent and Caregiver PATH to help caregivers like you navigate the recovery process with your own support system, to stay motivated and energized throughout the long journey. This is also why we offer specialized 1:1 Nutrition Counseling, that often involves the entire family, to help you navigate all the challenges and hurdles that come up as a support person. Recovery from an eating disorder is a team effort, and if you have more questions about what this might look like, don’t be afraid to drop us a line.