Supporting Your Loved One Through an Eating Disorder
30 million people in the United States alone suffer from eating disorders. Taking the statistics into account, it is highly likely that this disease has afflicted someone you hold very dear, whether you are aware of it or not. They may be your best friend, your spouse, your parent or your child.
Supporting a person with an addiction is not easy, but standing with them through it is an integral part of their recovery. Instead of asking “why can’t you stop?” A better question is “how did this start?” If you can’t personally identify with having an eating disorder (ED), read on to see some simple ways you can be the support they need.
// Saying something is better than nothing at all.
It may be uncomfortable, but speaking up to this person might be exactly what they need. Instead of making an accusation, ask them questions. Cultivate a safe and comfortable atmosphere. Chances are their eating disorder will go into defense mode since it knows it’s being attacked. Be patient but persistent in the conversation.
// Be mindful of your words.
Refrain from what I call unnecessary “body talk” and specific comments about body shape and or weight, whether it’s about yourself or the person with the ED. Steer clear of mentioning calories, diets, and going in depth about specific foods. These topics can be triggering for a person with a food addiction.
// Encourage professional help.
An eating disorder is an illness manifested from deep seeded mental and emotional issues that have not been dealt with. Sometimes these issues are beyond our abilities and we don’t have the answers. Encourage your person to speak to a registered dietician. A meal plan is the most basic fundamental first step to a life in recovery.
// Don’t force it.
Recovery isn’t an option for someone who doesn’t truly want to get better. That being said, keeping someone accountable requires you to be both assertive and loving. Remind them that they are loved and have nothing to be ashamed of. Remind them that the disease is selfish, it wants their entire life. Challenge the person to separate themselves from the illness.
// Their relapse is not your failure.
Watching someone you love relapse in an addiction is incredibly difficult and disheartening. You might even become frustrated or feel responsible for their destructive choices. Be encouraged that their recovery is possible, but not contingent on you.
// A person recovering from an eating disorder is not invincible.
No matter how much time passes, an eating disorder does not disappear. A person in recovery merely chooses healthy coping mechanisms, but it’s important to stay aware that this is a cunning and baffling disease. Recovery brings freedom, though it does also mean complete insusceptibility to relapse.
// Seek support for yourself.
This is a difficult journey for you, as well. Join a support group and connect with others who’s loved ones are struggling.
// Know the facts. Educate others.
nationaleatingdisorders.org is a great place to start.
It’s not you against them; it’s us against a disease. Love the person, hate the addiction. Let’s fight it together.