Contributor: Carina Pearson, MA – Eating Disorder IOP Counselor, Focus Treatment Centers
Knowing how to support a loved one with an eating disorder can be intimidating, particularly if you’ve never experienced such issues. What are the right things to say? What can you do to encourage their recovery? While there aren’t any foolproof rules, there are several guidelines that can inform how you relate to someone with an eating disorder. Here are some to consider.
Guidelines to Support a Loved One
- Educate yourself. Unhelpful comments from loved ones are often due to a lack of education on the subject. There are several quality online resources, books, and lectures on eating disorders that can help separate fact from fiction. By availing yourself of these resources, you assure your loved one that you’re an informed supporter of their healing. A good place to start is EatingDisorderHope.com and The National Eating Disorders Association website.
- Respect their struggle. For someone who’s never had an eating disorder, it can be difficult to understand struggles with food and eating. This is why it’s important to remember that eating disorders are complex issues and don’t operate like an on and off switch. Statements like “just eat!” are not helpful and can leave your loved one feeling misunderstood and isolated.
- Be open. Avoiding or ignoring the topic of disordered eating is not helpful to resolving the issue, but direct and honest communication is. Being compassionate and open with your loved one about your concerns could be the beginning of recovery for them.
- Encourage treatment. Research demonstrates that early intervention and family involvement are extremely helpful factors to successful treatment. Exploring treatment options sooner rather than later could result in an easier recovery for your loved one. That being said, it is never too late for recovery, and there are many trained professionals that are ready to help.
- Offer to set up their first appointment. Sometimes the first step is the hardest. Asking your loved one if you can schedule an intake assessment for them could make all the difference to their health and well-being. Being evaluated by a professional may allow them to see the problem with new eyes, particularly if they don’t think that they need help. Receiving a diagnosis is helpful for many eating disorder sufferers, as they come to realize they have a legitimate illness that requires treatment.
These are just some of the ways you can be supportive. Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one about what behaviors and words are helpful or unhelpful to them. Each person with an eating disorder is unique, and your sensitivity and willingness to learn will go a long way in supporting their healing.
1. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, July 31). How to Help a Loved One. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/help/caregivers
2. Jones, M. J., Ulrike, V. K., Lock, J. L., Taylor, C. B. T., & Jacobi, C. J. (2012, March 22). Family-based Early Intervention for Anorexia Nervosa. Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/erv.2167
About Our Sponsor:
Focus Treatment Centers recognize that various forms of eating disorders are serious and complex illnesses that manifest through a variety of factors. As a Center of Excellence, Focus provides gold-standard treatment modalities with experienced and compassionate professionals in the fields of psychology, nutrition, and psychiatry. Our multi-disciplinary approach offers an emotionally and medically safe environment to encompass treating the full spectrum of disordered eating.
About the Author:
Carina Pearson, MA, is a master’s level therapist from Nashville. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and a Master of Arts degree in Counseling from Trevecca University in Nashville.
She is trained and experienced in experiential therapies, expressive arts therapy, and EMDR, and has drawn on these modalities in her past work as a trauma therapist in various inpatient treatment settings. She sees the therapy process as an excavation of the authentic self through processing trauma, identifying core values, and re-establishing the ability to truly connect with ourselves and others.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors 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 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 12, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on March 12, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC