Individuals living with an eating disorder (ED) are not the only ones affected by their ED. The family of the affected individual can also suffer greatly while navigating their loved one’s illness. The often devastating effects of the illness can reverberate throughout a family and have a tremendous impact on the people who love the individual.
What can family members do to move through this time in healthy ways?
- Get support for yourself – Find a therapist, practice self-care regularly, and do not blame yourself for your loved one’s eating disorder. Mindfulness and meditation may help you find calm moments each day, create space in your thoughts, and also keep you present in each moment.
- In your mind, separate your loved one from his or her ED. Your loved one is not their eating disorder. They each have unique personalities and behaviors, and can be easily identified. This disconnection of the two allows space for love, compassion, hope and patience for your loved one and his/her recovery to be felt and shared, while also granting freedom for the intense, negative emotions that you feel toward the eating disorder.
Family members have an opportunity to play a unique and significant role in their loved one’s recovery. However, this can be daunting task, especially at the beginning.
What can family members do to best support their loved one in recovery?
- Help your loved one find a treatment team that is experienced in eating disorders. This team should include, at minimum, a licensed counselor with eating disorder experience and registered dietitian. A medical doctor and possibly a psychiatrist may be helpful and/or necessary as well. Health professionals that are not properly trained in eating disorders can do more harm than good, even though they may have the best intentions. Interviewing the professional in advance can be a beneficial first step.
- Educate yourself – There are many resources available to you such as the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), and quite a few good books you can use as resources (“Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer is a great place to start). These can help you begin to understand what your loved one is going through with his or her eating disorder and how you can best support them. Attend any family support groups that your loved one’s treatment facility offers – these can be a huge asset, both as support for yourself and as education.
Above all else, hold tight onto HOPE. Don’t give up. There may be bad days. There may be horrific days. There will also be days full of life, light and goodness. Watch for them; be on the lookout. Note them in your gratitude journal.
Amanda Going has personally supported a loved one with an eating disorder and is the amazing Office Manager at Empowerment Treatment & Counseling Center.
If you or someone you know needs help, talk with your health care provider or give us a call! We have a caring staff of seasoned therapists in our Phoenix/Glendale, Arizona offices who have experience in helping people heal from the past, find meaning and joy in the present, and embrace hope for the future. (623) 810-1663