When you have a loved one with an eating disorder, you may feel helpless, hopeless, and confused. You may feel at a loss as to how to approach your loved one and a strong desire to “fix” the problem.
The first step is to stop avoiding the issue. While you might be afraid of upsetting your loved one, it is better to err on the side of expressing your concern. Find a time and place to talk where you will not be interrupted. Tell your loved ones what you have observed for example, “I hear you throwing up after you eat,” or “I see that you have lost a lot of weight,” and how you feel about it, upset, scared, angry. You may then tell your loved one what you would like them to do, for example, “I would like you to meet with a therapist.”
Your loved one then has a choice about whether to enter treatment. You cannot force an adult to seek therapy. You can continue to express your concerns and show you are there to support your loved one. You may also seek therapy for yourself in order to have a place to express your feelings and to get some guidance in coping with the eating disorder.
If your loved one is currently in therapy, here are a few suggestions to help you support his or her recovery:
1. Refrain from making any comments about food, weight, or appearance. This just reinforces eating disordered thinking.
2. Do not attempt to food intake or other symptoms. The eating-disordered individual must take responsibility for her or his own behavior.
3. Be patient. Recovering from an eating disorder is a long slow process. There may be movement forward and then back. Putting pressure on your loved one to be “cured” only increases their level of stress.
4. Show your loved one you care about them. Expressing positive feelings helps your loved feel safe and supported.
5. Offer to listen non-judgmentally. People with eating disorders must learn to express their feelings. They may express negative feelings toward you, as part of learning to assert themselves. Try to listen non-defensively to their concerns.
6. Show you want to be involved by reading about eating disorders and attending support groups for friends and family members.
Lakeview Center for Psychotherapy offers a support group for loved ones of people with eating disorders. We also offer family therapy, couples therapy, and individual therapy focused on helping family members cope with eating disorders. For more information or to set up an appointment, call us at 773-525-3322, ext. 42.