When Your Loved One is Struggling with an Eating Disorder
As someone with a loved one fighting an eating disorder (ED), you have an important and challenging role. Whether you’re a parent, spouse, sibling, friend, teacher, or family member of someone with an ED, your words and actions matter. When you interact with your loved one you want to provide support but sometimes you may not know what to say, what not to say, or how to act. Check out these helpful tips below.
What NOT to say:
● “You don’t look like you have an ED.”
● “Just eat.”
● “You’re too smart to have an ED.”
● “Don’t you know how much stress you’re causing the family.”
● “You don’t need to lose weight.”
● “Why don’t you try (insert any diet, eating plan, or exercise regime)? It worked for me when I didn’t like my body.”
● Generally, don’t comment on your loved one’s appearance or weight and try not to make any negative food comments, such as “this food is so unhealthy, fattening, has so many calories, is greasy, etc.”
This may feel like you’re walking on eggshells and it might be like that for some time. But the ED voice inside their head is already berating them with negative comments about food, their body, and their actions. Try not to add to this.
What to say:
● “I love you.”
● “I may not understand what’s going on but I want to learn how to support you.” ● “You’re strong.”
● “How can I be here for you?”
● “I’m learning about eating disorders and how to support you. I’m sorry if I don’t say the right things yet.”
● “How’s your science project going?” “Would you like to watch a movie tonight?” “I can’t wait to plant flowers in the garden with you this weekend.”
Every conversation doesn't have to be about the eating disorder. Especially if you are a friend, sibling, or peer of someone with an ED, it’s not your job to be their treatment team. If they don’t want to talk about the ED with you don’t force them to and don’t try to “fix it.” If you are a parent of a person with an ED your role will look different. You will be involved in their treatment and are the most important support person on their treatment team. Please discuss what your role is with your child’s treatment team.
Lastly, take care of yourself. You have a hard job of being a support person for your loved one. Please remember to ask for help, rest, and go easy on yourself. It may mean asking friends to take more shifts driving your kids to school and extracurriculars, asking the Grandparents to prepare several of the family meals each week, going on a walk with your spouse or a friend, working with your own therapist, joining a support group, using meal delivery services, or anything that helps you as you help your loved one.
Our dietitians are equipped to help you learn more and build your supportive skills. Ask your Mood Balance Nutrition Registered Dietitian about parent support groups we recommend!