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Eating Disorders and Hope for Your Family
By Neathery Thurmond, LMSW, Staff Therapist at Hill Country Recovery Center (Austin, TX)
The moment your loved one is diagnosed with an eating disorder can be scary and confusing. Everything changes, and feelings of hopelessness may overwhelm you. But recovery is the light at the end of the journey, though it may seem never ending. Please let these pillars of hope guide you and give you strength as you emerge out of the darkness, and into the light of recovery.
Pillars of Hope:
Pillar #1: It is not your fault
I will say it again: your loved one’s eating disorder is not your fault. Right now we cannot specifically pinpoint what causes any mental illness let alone an eating disorder. The biosocial theory posits that an individual has a biological propensity mixed with an invalidating environmental stimulus which contributes to coping skills such as:
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Self-harm, etc. (Crowell, Beauchaine, & Linehan, 2009)
This environmental stimulus can be anything from bullying, divorce, trauma, or just living in our diet-obsessed society.
You might feel like you could have done something to prevent the eating disorder, but if it were that easy to do; there wouldn’t be 30 million people in the United States suffering (National Eating Disorder Association). Please let yourself off the hook.
Pillar #2: Recovery is possible AND achievable
You might hear the phrase “recovery is possible” over and over again. I would like to take the next step and say it is not just possible but achievable. Millions of people recover from their eating disorder and go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
When you are feeling hopeless, read inspirational stories of recovery from other people who have been where your loved one is and have not just survived, but thrived.
Pillar #3: Do not give up
Yes, recovery is achievable but it does take hard work to get there. Eating disorders require a treatment team approach and finding the best fit for your loved one and family can take time.
Treatment itself also takes time. There might be days that seem impossible to get through, but that is when the fight is the most important.
Pillar #4: Your oxygen mask first
It is very easy for the individual struggling with the eating disorder to become the “identified patient,” and it is also very easy for family members to try and do the work for the individual. It can be hard to see your loved one struggle, but ultimately, it is their battle.
The best way to support them is by not ignoring your own needs. In this case, I like to take a page from flight attendants and remind families that “in case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.”
Participate in life affirming activities that are not about the eating disorder. Your life does not need to revolve around the eating disorder in order for your loved one to know you care.
Throughout this journey, remind yourself about the light at the end of the tunnel. It is achievable.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What are a few of your pillars of hope as a family member of someone recovering from an eating disorder?
- Crowell, S.E., Beauchaine, T.P., and Linehan, M.M. (2009). A biosocial developmental model of borderline personality: Elaborating and extending linehan’s theory. Accessed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696274/
- Eating Disorder Hope Recovery Stories. Accessed at: http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/recovery/stories
- National Eating Disorder Association. Get the facts on eating disorders. Accessed at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders
The opinions and views of our guest bloggers are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.