Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Eating disorders are a severe illness that affect not only the individual but the entire family. As with any serious disease, emotions may run high as family members try to understand and cope. They might want to help and don’t know how or feel alone, frustrated, or scared.
It is important for the family to help and heal with their loved one who is experiencing an eating disorder. Here are some ways to help your family during this time and grow stronger together.
TOOLS FOR A HEALTHY FAMILY
Education. Understanding eating disorders, treatment options, and resources can help you support your loved one suffering and the entire family. There are many resources available about eating disorders, such as books, support groups, articles, and organizations. Learn about the illness, treatments, where to get help and support, and what changes your family might need to take. Then share that knowledge with the other family members; this will help them understand what is happening, why changes might need to occur, and how they can support their loved one.
Emotional Support. Your loved one with an eating disorder is not the only one affected by it; the other members of your family are trying to navigate it as well. Foster a stronger family relationship by offering emotional support and encouraging them to discuss their feelings, concerns, and questions. Create a safe place for them to communicate and express themselves.
Professional Support. Navigating the healing journey can be challenging and scary; it’s okay to ask for help. Seek support for yourself and encourage your family to do so as well. Therapy will help your family navigate this time and help provide you with coping skills and techniques. Provide support to your loved one with an eating disorder by normalizing treatment and therapy. Be empathetic and let them know it’s okay to ask for help. Show your support by participating in their treatment if they are okay with it.
Lead by Example. Set a good example for your entire family. Evaluate your family’s current behaviors and habits, then make positive changes. Practice healthy habits such as eating for nourishment and exercising to be well, not to obtain a specific appearance. Shift the conversation away from appearance and weight to self-love and body acceptance. It is essential to make time for friends and family, fun, self-care, and personal goals. Encourage your family also to practice self-care.
Resilience. Most people believe that resilience is being able to bounce back from adversity, that you either have it, or you don’t. But having resilience isn’t that black and white; it fluctuates throughout the day. Think of resilience as the amount of fuel in your gas tank. If you’re running on empty and a steep hill comes up, you will have trouble getting to the other side. If you are prepared with a full tank, you’ll sail right over the top.
Resilience is about creating a survival kit for challenges. This might include coping skills such as self-care, planned breaks, problem-solving skills, and routines. Another tool is a strong support system of people with whom you can discuss your feelings and ask for support.