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Supporting Someone Who Has an Eating Disorder

Topic Overview

When a loved one has an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating and is in treatment, it is important that you show support.

Personal support

You can show personal support by:

  • Showing and stating your love.
  • Avoiding the temptation to control the person.
  • Trusting that your loved one has developed his or her own high values, ideals, and standards.
  • Encouraging self-responsibility for your loved one's actions, both successes and setbacks.
  • Offering support during times of discouragement.

You can also help by:

  • Not urging your loved one to eat or not eat, unless this is part of the plan for treatment.
  • Avoiding comparisons with other people.
  • Listening to feelings.
  • Not allowing yourself to be controlled by your loved one's behavior.

Family therapy and counseling

Many people struggle with handling their feelings and interactions with someone who has an eating disorder. Counseling, such as family therapy, can help you learn ways to encourage healthy eating behaviors in children and teens who have eating disorders.

Counseling can be a big help to everyone in your family, whether it means seeing a counselor alone, as a couple, or as a family. Each family member may need reassurance or counseling at different times during the course of the illness.

  • Use a professional counselor to help you work through your concerns and reduce the eating disorder's impact on you and your family.
  • Make time for other children in your family to receive one-on-one love and attention.
  • Use a family therapist to help your family members find new ways to support one another.
  • Use a family therapist to find new ways to support your loved one's eating disorder recovery. For example, a person who has anorexia is likely to do better in an organized environment that is free from chaos and emotional outbursts.

Remember the big picture

Friends and family members cannot cause a person to develop an eating disorder. Many people who have an eating disorder come from families in which other members have eating disorders or have other conditions such as depression. This doesn't mean that a family member caused the disorder. It simply means that these conditions seem more likely to happen in that family.

You can avoid guilt and self-blame by using the following tips.

  • Show support for your family member who has an eating disorder. Say things such as, "I know this is hard for you. You're doing a good job."
  • Don't focus attention only on the family member who is in treatment. Spend time with other members of your family and your friends.
  • Remind yourself that this is a long-lasting disorder. It will take time for changes to happen.
  • Forgive yourself if you think you said something that was not appropriate, and forgive your family member if he or she reverts to unhealthy eating behaviors.
  • Do not look for the reason for the disorder. Work toward changing things for the better.
  • Look at your own eating behaviors, and change the ones that seem unhealthy.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. Stewart Agras, MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
Last Revised April 10, 2012

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