A Letter to Caregivers Supporting Someone with an Eating Disorder

Poetry written

Dear Caregivers – 

I know there are many of you.

28.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime, and they do not struggle or recover on their own [1]. Parents, partners, siblings, doctors, therapists, coaches, teachers, the list could go on-and-on.

All of you give of yourselves to help your loved one in their recovery journey. There is no doubt that this is not always, if ever, easy to do. You likely sacrifice your energy, mental health, time, emotions, finances, and more to give your own contribution.

You are seen, you are understood, and you are valued, whether you hear it often or not. Your loved ones, patients, students, etc. are grateful for all you do and all you give.

Even so, Caregivers, I have to ask a difficult question – are you taking care of yourself? I mean really taking care of yourself, not just an occasional deep breath or face mask here-and-there.

Support network of caregivers holding each other upFamily caregivers of individuals with eating disorders show reduced quality of life, particularly in areas of mental health, vitality, and emotional role functioning [2].

Healthcare providers are at twice the risk of burnout when compared to the general US population [3]. This information is likely unsurprising to you because you live it. You are in the trenches helping the individual you care for fight this harrowing disease.

In this battle, you must also take care of yourself, Caregiver.

Make a list of things that bring you joy, that “fill up your cup,” and that help you to relieve anxiety. Next, make a list of your daily activities in an average week.

Do these lists align?

If not, they should. Work to include more activities in your life that encourage daily self-care. Whether your preferred self-care is fitness, art, reading, journaling, mindfulness, going for walks, engaging in therapy, doing group consultation or supervision with colleagues, all of the above, or something entirely different, do something for you. It is true, what they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Whether your “person” with an eating disorder is a child, loved one, patient, client, or student, the less you engage in your own self-care, the more likely you are to burnout. This can harm you, of course, and may cause complications or bitterness in your relationship with the individual.

You do not have to do it all. In fact, you cannot do it all. You do not need to sacrifice yourself in order to help anyone else. Prioritize your own mental health above anyone else’s to be the best caregiver you can be. Take care of yourself to take care of them.

Hang in there, Caregivers.

You are making a difference.


[1] Unknown (2019). Eating disorder statistics. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, retrieved from https://anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.

[2] De la Rie, S. M. Et al (2006). The quality of life of family caregivers of eating disorder patients. The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 13:4.

[3] Net, K. D. Et al. (2020). Caring for others without losing yourself: an adaptation of the mindful self-compassion program for healthcare communities. Journal of Clinical Psychology.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.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 October 23, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on October 23, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC