How To Support Your Loved One in Eating Disorder Treatment

“What are the best ways to help someone with an eating disorder?” is a question many of us at Virtue Recovery have heard before. This can be a very difficult question as each individual has different preferences and different things that help them in their recovery.

Before Entering Treatment

This is often the most difficult time for parents, spouses, life partners, siblings, and friends. We would like to offer a few simple strategies for supporting your loved one at this time:

  • Please try to manage your own emotions at this time. We know it can feel scary, anxiety-provoking, frustrating, depressing, hopeless, helpless, or angering when a loved one is struggling with their eating disorder. However, a calm demeanor tends to help any conversation or interaction improve. We know it can be difficult when you are concerned for your loved one, but caring for yourself first is one of the best things you can do.
  • Be open to conversations. Listen to what your loved one has to say. Try to listen for desires for change or for help. Just be there for your loved one if they are willing to talk. One of the worst parts of living with an eating disorder is the feeling of isolation that comes along with it. If your loved one is willing to discuss their eating disorder, it is okay to talk about how you feel about it, but please use “I” statements. Take ownership of your feelings and experience.
  • Do not try to control your loved one’s eating. It won’t work and will only cause more tension and animosity between you. If your loved one wants to engage in behaviors, they will do so with or without your permission. This is a time to advocate for professional help. We at Virtue Recovery have excellent training and experience to help your loved one.
  • Do not pretend that the eating disorder does not exist. It does. You have witnessed it. You are feeling the effects of it. This does not mean constantly trying to confront your loved one, but you need to acknowledge that your loved one needs help.
  • Take time to think about what you want to say. Think about how you feel about your loved one and their eating disorder. When you do speak with your loved one, it does not need to be perfect, but be ready to express your thoughts, feelings, care, and concern.
  • If and when your loved one does agree to accept help, acknowledge how significant a step that is. Treatment can be frightening, anxiety-provoking, frustrating, and overwhelming for your loved one. Make sure to take a moment to acknowledge that they are deciding to go through all of that to get help.

While in Treatment

This is often a very relieving time for the support system of someone struggling with an eating disorder. We have heard many families discuss how they can finally stop worrying about their loved ones because they are somewhere safe. Take time to enjoy this and start preparing for the next step in your loved one’s journey. Here are a few tips for making the most of this time:

  • Ask questions of your loved one. They will likely be contacting you regularly during their time in treatment. Ask about what they are learning, how they feel, and what the process is like. Your loved one may be excited to share some days. On other days he/she/they may be frustrated and angry. Just know that listening to and hearing your loved one will be meaningful in and of itself. Do some of your own learning about eating disorders as well. Your loved one’s therapist will have book recommendations and other resources for you.
  • Be ready for new boundaries. Your loved one will build a new relationship with food and their body. She/they/he may ask for changes to be made with conversations, habits, or items in the household. Please be open to these conversations. Also, be ready to set boundaries of your own. To have healthy, functional relationships, we need to have boundaries.
  • Do not focus on your loved one’s body. It is very possible your loved one’s body will change in treatment, but there are two important things to remember about this: 1) Changing bodies is NOT the focus of treatment. Often it is a result of improved nutrition and better habits with food. 2) They/he/she is likely feeling extremely self-conscious about their body. Any kind of body comments can be triggering and uncomfortable.
  • Start re-learning how to take care of yourself. We know how having a loved one with an eating disorder can turn someone’s life upside down. It can be difficult to care for ourselves when we are under such intense stress. Start practicing your self-care again. Take time to seek your own mental health support. Utilize your support group.

After Treatment

The team here at Virtue Recovery Center will help you and your loved one prepare for life after treatment. Our case managers will help to set up aftercare and other support services. Family sessions with your loved one will help to establish boundaries and direction for life after treatment. Our dietary staff will also give your loved one a meal plan to follow when he/she/they leave treatment.