Watching someone you love suffer from an eating disorder can be emotionally taxing. It’s difficult to know how to help without overstepping boundaries or worsening the situation. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your loved one seek eating disorder treatment and assist in their recovery.
1. Educate Yourself on Their Eating Disorder
One of the first steps in supporting someone with an eating disorder is educating yourself about their condition. These disorders are often stigmatized, making it more difficult to receive proper treatment and support. Make sure you understand the facts about their condition and learn to recognize eating disorder myths.
There are many trusted resources out there, such as the National Institute of Mental Health. You can also visit Seeds of Hope’s Education Center to get an overview of the different types of eating disorders and how they are treated.
It’s difficult to empathize with a loved one in need of eating disorder treatment if you don’t fully understand what they are facing. Take the initiative to do some research so that you are better equipped to listen, understand, and provide resources to help them overcome the battle they are facing.
2. Engage in Conversation
People are often hesitant to engage in conversation about eating disorders, but not speaking about the situation will only add to perceived stigma. Talk to your loved one. Reassure him or her that you are there for support as they progress through treatment. Ask them how they are doing or how their treatment is going. Ask them what they need from you to support their recovery.
Some phrases that can demonstrate your support include:
- “I know this is hard for you to handle.”
- “I am so sorry you’re dealing with these struggles.”
- “Thank you for sharing this with me.”
- “It sounds stressful to be going through this.”
- “I’m proud of you.”
Phrases like these can help your loved one know they aren’t alone. Also talk to your loved one about everyday subjects like local sports, their hobbies, etc., so that they feel a sense of normalcy. People struggling with eating disorders often feel alienated. However, you can mitigate this by using empathetic language to show you care.
3. Continue to Involve Them in Your Life
Because eating disorders are very isolating, your loved one may not feel welcomed at events and gatherings. They may even want to withdraw from family and friends. Combat this by asking them to spend time with you. Invite them to get-togethers the same as you did before they developed an eating disorder. Doing so may help your loved one feel less isolated as they see that you are making an effort to connect.
4. Respect and Enforce Boundaries
Helping a loved one seek eating disorder treatment can be challenging when you also need to maintain boundaries. As much as you care about the person in your life who is struggling with this, you are not a professional, and you can only do so much to facilitate their recovery. If your loved one expects you to provide counsel or treatment, you need to maintain boundaries and understand that this is the duty of a trained treatment professional. Similarly, you need to understand your loved one’s boundaries, and not attempt to extend help beyond what you are reasonably capable of.
Boundaries are also important when it comes to making sure that you are not pressuring your loved one into seeking eating disorder treatment. They must seek this treatment of their own accord in order for it to be effective. You need to find the balance between encouragement and pressure. To encourage them, you might help by researching treatment centers and finding one that specializes in the disorder they are struggling with. You should not pressure them, however, by insisting they book a visit or commit to treatment.
5. Support Their Meal Plan
If you are in the position to prepare and share meals with someone with an eating disorder (i.e. parent, spouse, roommate, etc.), be mindful of what they need to support their recovery. Parents should work with their child’s treatment team to develop a meal plan. If you’re a relative, spouse, roommate or friend, ask your loved one about their meal plan and whether they are comfortable with your involvement.
Some people in recovery may prefer to handle all of their meal prep themselves because it’s easier to stick to their meal plan that way. Others may welcome the support. Be sensitive to your loved one’s needs.
6. Plan After-Meal Activities
Mealtimes are a source of anxiety for those suffering from an eating disorder. To help a loved one with this anxiety as they are receiving treatment, create healthy distractions. After a meal, propose watching a movie, taking a walk, or playing a game together. Activities done together can help your loved one resist the temptation of compensatory behavior such as excessive exercise, purging, etc.
7. Accompany Them During Treatment
Receiving treatment for an eating disorder can be a scary thing to go through. Having love and support from someone close can help ease that anxiety and allow treatment to have its full effect. If appropriate, offer to accompany your loved one during their treatment sessions, especially at the early stages. This may help them feel more comfortable until they are ready to attend treatment on their own.
If your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder but is not currently in treatment, you may even consider helping them find professional treatment. Seeds of Hope is currently accepting new clients. We have both outpatient and residential treatment options in Pennsylvania. Call us at (610) 644-6464 to get more information for your loved one.