How to support a loved one living with ED

By Amanda Worth, MA

Eating disorders are more common than you think. Those suffering with an eating disorder can feel ashamed, afraid, and embarrassed. Most do not want to be a burden to their family or friends so they hide their eating disorder.

Support is a huge component on the road to recovery from this life threatening disease. Being an individual’s support is not easy, but you can do it. It is easy to feel shame or take blame for the illness, but you need to know this is not your fault nor is it the fault of the individual living with an eating disorder. You need to accept you did not cause the illness and instead be strong for the one you are supporting.

First, learn all that you can about eating disorders so you can better understand the daily thoughts and actions of the individual you are supporting. The more you know and learn about the illness will only benefit you in pointing out concerns.

Second, learn how to communicate concerns without putting blame or shame on the individual.

Using “I” statements is the best way to communicate how you feel as the supporter. Learning how,  when and where it is appropriate to talk about the illness can be beneficial to building a supportive relationship. You do not want to put an individual on the spot around others who may be unaware of the situation, but you also want to learn to be encouraging and supportive in public.

Do not forget about you! It can be easy to put aside what you need and put others before yourself especially when they are battling a life threatening illness.

There are support groups for individuals specifically supporting loved ones with eating disorders. Take advantage of these groups so you can discuss frustrations, struggles, highs and lows you may be experiencing and to ultimately know you are not alone.

Do not be afraid to tell someone if your friend or loved one needs help. Addressing and acknowledging the body image or eating problem is one of the first steps.

Talk to a professional, do not wait for the issue or symptoms to progress further before deciding to tell someone. Encourage the individual suffering to seek professional help. Individuals suffering with an eating disorder need professional help from therapists, dietitians and physicians as well as your support to help guide them on a a road of recovery which can be tough.

Keep in mind seeking help for an individual with body image issues or an eating disorder can be difficult and scary for them. There can be hesitation on their part to commit to seeking professional help and following through with appointments. You need to be able to stand by them and remind them why they are seeking help, remind them of their goals and why they want to get better. A lot of the time their thoughts will be feed or clouded by the eating disorder to which they need the reminder to why they want to get well and stay focused on recovery.

If you are in public, at a social gathering or just having a simple dinner at home remember the tips provided above. You want to continue to be a sense of support but also want to be firm. You want to be firm when promoting positive encouragement and know they are responsible for their own actions. Understand treatment is not easy and setbacks and relapse are generally part of the road to recovery. If someone you care about is struggling, remind them of their goals and why they want to want to get better.  

If you are looking for resources to learn more and how to support an individual suffering from an eating disorder, refer to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) websites, as well as local certified professions specialized in eating disorders.

Amanda Worth is a clinical therapist at The Kenner Center for psychotherapy, which provides guidance for adults, children and families struggling with anything from depression, anxiety and OCD to chronic pain, relationship issues and eating disorders.

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