Navigating the complexities of supporting a loved one with an eating disorder can be tricky. Whether it be a friend, a family member, or a partner, it is always difficult to see someone struggle and not know how to properly help them. You may find yourself wishing for a clear-cut manual on how best to handle the situation. Whilst every individual is different, there are things you can keep in mind to ease the process of recovery; this post will outline some of the Do’s and Don’ts of supporting a loved one with an eating disorder.
- Do: Open the Lines of Communication
Make it known that you are there to lend a non-judgmental ear, without forcing them to share. They should feel like they can come to you, but there should be no pressure on them to, and no resentment if they don’t confide. It may take time for them to be ready to open up, so don’t push them. Remember to emphasize that you are here to help, not to judge.
Being non-judgmental is a crucial part of creating a safe place for a loved one. This entails validating their feelings and experiences, even when you do not entirely understand them. Struggling with a mental health issue can make people feel alone. Part of alleviating that feeling is showing that you understand and empathize, even if you don’t relate.
- Do: Educate Yourself
It’s helpful to learn the ‘jargon’ to better understand what your loved one is or may be going through. There are many online resources for this: NEDA’s online glossary is a great place to start.
If you can, reading up on people’s lived experiences is also useful. This humanizes the language and helps put it into context. Blogs such as Angie Viet’s ‘Inspired Recovery’ offer in-depth first-hand testimonials, along with various resources.
Research treatment options, such as support groups, therapists in your area, or mental health professionals who offer virtual sessions. Whilst the choice of treatment should always belong to the patient (and their legal guardian, if applicable), it’s useful to know the options that are available so that you can offer your knowledge if need be.
- Don’t: Comment on Weight and Appearance
Avoid making comments on their looks and weight, however well-intentioned they may be. De-emphasizing the importance of appearance and weight is key. Try to focus compliments on other attributes, such as humor, talent, or skill.
In the same vein, try not to comment on other people’s bodies and weight, however positively or negatively. Your loved one may internalize this message, and it is likely to increase comparison with others.
- Don’t: Forget to Take Care of Yourself
Watching a loved one go through a mental health issue can be emotionally taxing and burnout in caregivers is a common experience. Don’t forget to practice self-care. You can even make this into an activity you do with them – taking a walk in the morning; setting small, achievable goals for the day; taking breaks from electronic devices, etc.
Try to make sure that the eating disorder is not the only topic of conversation. Maintaining normal interactions serves you both as a reminder that there is life outside of the disorder. This is not to say that it shouldn’t be spoken about, but being constantly reminded of it will do you both more harm than good.
Finally: be kind to yourself. Mistakes may happen, but remember that you are doing your best to navigate a complicated situation.
If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We have several therapists available that specialize in eating disorder recovery and support.