By Alex Raymond
When your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s very possible to experience a wide range of emotions, including sadness, confusion, guilt, fear, frustration and helplessness.
You might not know how to help them. You might be so confused as to why your loved one might not want to seek professional help. It might be frustrating that it feels like they don’t want to not “listen” to what the dietitian or therapist is saying. Or you might wonder why they just can’t eat or stop eating. You might even feel guilty and wondering if you played a role in the development of the eating disorder.
As eating disorder dietitians, part of our job is to not only support our clients through their journey, but to also support their parents and other loved ones in navigating their own struggles.
Sometimes that means we meet with our clients’ loved ones at the end of the session one on one. Or it means we have a “family session,” involving loved ones and our clients. We truly believe that in most situations loved ones can be our clients’ greatest support. It does require a bit of learning and education for parents, friends, partners…etc. Just as their own loved ones are learning about the disease and how it plays a role in their own lives.
On May 11th, 2019, Bobbi and I will be presenting to families and loved ones of those who are struggling with eating disorders (EDs).
More details at the bottom of this blog!
Again, we believe that caregivers can be the greatest allies in someone’s recovery journey. But, many loved ones might not know how to help. So, it’s important to equip them with the tools needed. We understand this can be a confusing journey for our clients and their families.
If you’re interested in attending our workshop… here is what you need to know.
The workshop will be held on Saturday May 11th. It will be from 9am-3pm at our office in Columbia (9881 Broken Land Parkway, Suite 105, Columbia, MD 21046). Lunch is included. Donations will be made to Rock Recovery. Please see the flier for more information.
So, our theme for this month’s newsletter, our blogs, and our social media, focuses on the theme of supporting a loved one in their recovery. We’re creating a few free downloads. The first is a handout for families. More to come, so be sure to follow Alex on Instagram (@empoweredeatingrd) and sign up for our newsletter to receive updates! These handouts include tips on how to help, resources and some activities for self care.
Now, I’d like to dive deeper into some tips for loved ones. Here are the “DOs” on what to say and how to support your loved on in their recovery.
DO remember… it’s absolutely NOT your fault.
Eating disorders develop from a wide variety of causes. Often times, loved ones worry if they are to blame for the eating disorder’s progression. Many parents I see feel guilty and shameful. But, you are NOT to blame.
DO say how great it is to be with your loved one and to see them.
What I typically hear from loved ones are phrases like..
- You look so much “better” now!/You look so “healthy!”
- You looked too skinny before.
- No, don’t worry you’re not fat!
All of these comments are well meaning! I’m sure you’re trying to encourage and comfort the loved one. However, what gets tricky is that even though eating disorder symptoms often present themselves as concerns over shape/size and eating patterns, it’s not all about the food and the weight. I like to use the metaphor of an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is what we can see (food, body image, weight, stress…etc). But, 2/3 of that iceberg is underneath the surface. And that’s what perpetuates the ED.. so things like, self esteem and self worth, anxiety, depression, belonging… What you can say instead is “It’s great to see you, I enjoy spending time together. Your body does not define you, and I love you.” Commenting on weight often reinforces the eating disorder and brings the weight/body image concerns to the forefront.
DO eat similar foods to your loved one
Your loved one is trying to challenge a ton of food rules! Chances are, family dinners might be intimidating or stressful, especially if your loved one is eating foods that do not feel comfortable with eating. It’s important the family eats similar foods to their loved one at family meal time. So, if you make chicken parm and pasta for dinner, everyone in the family should eat the chicken parm and pasta. It can be confusing if family members eat less or less scary options.
DO talk about food in a positive light
Your loved one is slowing working on improving his/her relationship with food. This includes putting all foods on an even playing field, so there is no such thing as “good” and “bad” foods. Plus, it can be extremely difficult for those with eating disorders to give themselves permission to enjoy food. To model a positive relationship with food, you may want to consider avoiding the “good food” “bad food” conversations.
DO ask how you can help
Asking a loved one how you can help can go a long way! They might not have an answer because they might not know or they might be afraid to speak up. But, you can assure them that you want to help and when they are ready to talk about it, you’re here. I really loved this quote from a presentation I saw at the iaedp (international association of eating disorder professionals) symposium this past year. I feel like it paints a picture of what is going on instead your loved ones brain.
DO get support for yourself
You are deserving of self care and relaxation!! You also are allowed to find your own therapist or dietitian to work with. I love the expression “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” You have been giving so much to your loved one, and it’s just as important to give back to yourself. You’re not going to be much help if you’re exhausted and running yourself ragged. Some self care ideas include… massages, bubble baths, reading a good book, going to a coffee place alone, taking a day trip to a nearby town, manicures/pedicures…
And!! Check out our workshop! Which is going to take place on Saturday May 11th from 9am-3pm. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up and for more information! Hope to see you there 🙂