Anorexia nervosa is a harrowing disorder with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness . As the partner of someone struggling with this disorder, you likely know all-too-well what these statistics look like in real life. Providing support to your loved one as they fight this disorder can be very difficult and overwhelming.
Look to the Anorexia Treatment Team
Many support systems want to do all they can to help their loved ones, often reading and researching as much as they can to gain an awareness of the danger their loved one faces and how they can help. There is no shortage of information to be found on eating disorders, but this also means there is no shortage of misinformation.
While admirable to learn as much as you can, the influx of information can be more confusing than informative. As such, it will be most helpful for you and your loved one to look to the treatment team for information that is appropriate for their treatment and recovery.
These individuals are aware of the most accurate research as well as the individual aspects of your loved one’s disorder. When you are feeling confused, overwhelmed, and have questions, they are your first and best resource to learn what you need to know.
Embrace the Grey Area of Recovery with Compassion
It is understandable that support persons hope for a quick and final recovery for their loved one. However, this expectation is not realistic. Recovery from anorexia nervosa is not linear and does not involve a concrete upward trajectory.
Research indicates that anorexia nervosa has a 2% lifetime prevalence rate and that between 35 to 41% of individuals will relapse within 18 months after leaving treatment for their disorder . This is not intended to reduce your hope for your loved one but to help realize the true up-and-down journey of recovery.
It is likely that your loved one will experience a lapse or relapse at least once in their recovery journey, even if they are earnestly pursuing recovery. It will be challenging for you to be there for your loved one as they struggle through the rollercoaster of recovery, but having an awareness of the reality of this journey can help you to respond with patience and compassion.
Do Not Neglect Yourself
The best way for you to support your loved one is to prioritize your own mental health and well-being. This will be difficult, as many want to give of themselves completely in hopes of saving their loved one.
Recognize that you cannot save your loved one. They must do that for themselves. What you can do is provide consistent kindness, love, and support in this journey.
Your ability to do this becomes impaired when you do not pour into yourself, risking burnout and resentment. Do not be afraid or ashamed to prioritize yourself when you need space or support.
Your loved one absolutely has within them the strength and resilience to overcome anorexia nervosa. Your support will mean the world to them as they navigate this journey.
Resources Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry; 68:7.  Brenda, T. (2016). Rate, timing, and predictors of relapse in patients with anorexia nervosa following a relapse prevention program: a cohort study. BMC Psychiatry; 16(1): 316.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published March 24, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on March 24, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC