Seeing your loved one suffer from an eating disorder is not easy, whether it be your child, your partner, your sibling or your friend. It is soooo HARD to see someone you care about go through this. It can be overwhelming to support someone with an eating disorder.
If you are concerned about someone you know who may be developing an eating disorder, please reach out for help and support. I know it’s not always easy to express your concerns about this to someone you care about, however, know that it may be equally as difficult for the person you are concerned about to ask for help. Starting the conversation and creating a safe space to discuss your concerns and treatment options is a great first step to supporting your loved one through recovery.
REMINDER: Everyone’s experience with an eating disorder is different. What may be helpful for one person may not be helpful for the other, so take the time to ask them how you can support their recovery.
To be supportive means to provide sympathy and encouragement (Dictionary, 2022). In the early stages, you may find it difficult to understand exactly what your loved one is going through, and that’s okay. The best thing you can do to show your support is to recognize your knowledge gaps on the subject and educate yourself. If you’ve made it to this blog post, you are probably already taking that first step (which is amazing!).
As their support person, you can acknowledge, validate and encourage them to push through the difficult hurdles of recovery. By being supportive, you make them feel safe and help them find their way back to trusting themselves and those around them.
An integrative review of the literature that was published in 2014, explored the effectiveness of social support networks in eating disorder recovery. While family support has been shown to improve the speed and sustainability of ED recovery, their review concluded that significant others such as partners, friends, neighbours, colleagues etc., helped the individual cope with their disorder.
There are many ways you can provide support. I like to divide it into 4 pillars:
Familiarize yourself with the red flags of an eating disorder to access professional support and proceed with early interventions in an effort to prevent the severity of the disorder. You can read my blog post What are eating disorders? for more information on warning signs.
During the meal:
Eating disorders bring on lots of feelings of shame and worthlessness (Musby, 2014). To them, and more specifically the eating disorder, food is bad and dangerous while their body is gross and unlovable. They feel guilty, ashamed, anxious and sad. They wish they could “just eat”, but they can’t. It feels impossible.
Family/Partners/Caregivers play a huge role in supporting their loved one during a meal. However, stay tuned for more information on meal support strategies that will be coming in a future blog post!
Outside the meal:
Your role in recovery does not only apply during mealtime. The eating disorder persists even outside of mealtimes. Naturally, you don’t want to say the wrong thing or hurt the person you care about, especially as they are trying to recover! The way you support your loved one is always going to be very unique to their circumstances. and you can discuss ways to best support them with the treatment team.
Here is a universal list of “Dos and Donts” when it comes to supporting someone with an eating disorder, outside of mealtimes:
To conclude, eating disorders, like many mental health conditions, are not often openly discussed. So, it can feel isolating to care for someone with an eating disorder. But, don’t feel like you need to do it alone. Seek support from local therapists, or online support groups. It’s important to remember that you are not to blame. There are many reasons why someone may develop an eating disorder and the important thing is that your loved one is seeking support
Remember that you are so important to their recovery, so you need to take care of yourself too! Full recovery is possible, and you are equally as resilient to this illness! You got this! Trust yourself because you know how to care for someone you love. Connect with a treatment team to guide you through this process.
- NEDA: How to help a loved one; https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/help/caregivers
- Help Guide: Helping someone with an eating disorder: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm
- Anorexia and Other eating disorders: How to help your child eat well and be well by Eva Musby: https://www.amazon.ca/Anorexia-other-Eating-Disorders-compassionate/dp/0993059805
Eating Disorder Recovery Program
Recovering from an eating disorder is not easy, however it IS possible. With the high demand for eating disorder services, and limited access to acute care, we have developed a virtual, outpatient eating disorder program to increase accessibility to recovery from the comfort of your own home.
This program includes:
- Individualized session with a dietitian or psychotherapist (weekly)
- Group sessions (weekly)
- Meal support (weekly)
- Parent, Caregiver, Partner support group (weekly)
- Care coordination
Want to learn more about? Find more information on our website: http://www.thebalancedpractice.com/edprogram
The Balanced Practice is a team of health care providers specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment, disordered eating and intuitive eating. Our mission is to help folks heal their relationship with food and their bodies so they can live happily outside of diet culture!
We strive to provide evidence based counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.
Written By Joelle Ciccarelli, RD
Revised by Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Founder of The Balanced Practice
Beat Eating Disorders. (2022). Supporting someone with an eating disorder. Retrieved from : https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/get-information-and-support/support-someone-else/tips-for-supporting-somebody-with-an-eating-disorder/
Dictionary. (2022). Supportive. Retrieved from: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/supportive#:~:text=adjective,Medicine%2FMedical.
Help Guide. (2020). Helping someone with an eating disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm
Muhlheim, L. (2020). Why full anorexia recovery is crucial for brain health. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/brain-starvation-and-recovery-in-anorexia-nervosa-1138303
Musby, E. (2014). Anorexia and Other eating disorders: How to help your child eat well and be well (first edition). Aprica.
National Eating Disorder Association. (2022). How to Help a Loved One. Retrieved from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/help/caregivers
Reach Out. (2022). How to help a friend with an eating disorder. Retrieved from: https://au.reachout.com/articles/how-to-help-a-friend-with-an-eating-disorder
Treasure J, Russell G. The case for early intervention in anorexia nervosa: theoretical exploration of maintaining factors. Br J Psychiatry. 2011 Jul;199(1):5-7. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.087585. PMID: 21719874.