Dealing with the Weirdness: Suggestions for Family and Friends in Talking to Loved Ones with Eating Disorders
Contributed Article By Yong Lee, MD ~ Former Medical Director of Remuda Ranch
Completing treatment is a beginning, not an end, to the long road to recovery. For families, coming home is a time meant for joy, with possible plans for festivities and socializing. These are times meant for families to draw closer together and to re-affirm love and support, a time to catch up on what has been going on and share with one another hopes for the future. To the individual suffering from an eating disorder, or in the throes of recovery, these occasions can be overwhelming and threatening. We want to be helpful and supportive, but nothing seems to come out right. What do we say? How can we let them know that we care and are there for them, without being so awkward about it?
Those patients who are struggling are often at a loss during homecoming. They, too, have expectations; and, oftentimes being perfectionists, they don’t want to let down their loved ones who are worried about them. Not only do they have to deal with the normal stresses of life and recovery, they worry that they will fail—either their families by engaging in their eating disorder; or, conversely, their eating disorder by losing control and gaining weight. Surely, everyone is looking at them, wondering if they are eating enough, eating the right things, getting enough rest. Surely, everyone knows that they just got out of treatment and are talking about them. They smile and put on a brave face. They wonder if people are avoiding talking to them. Maybe it’s for the best.
Some family members ask innocuously: “How are you doing?” Well, they think, before they respond with an obligatory, “Fine, thanks,” they feel…pretty much like a failure. Some of them have had to drop out of school, leave jobs, see their friends move on with their lives as they stay stuck. What happened to the person who was an honor student, track star, the one voted most likely to succeed? You’re at home with your parents? That’s great. Maybe you can use this time to get closer together. There’s always a silver lining to our struggles.
Even worse: “You’re looking really good. You look…healthy.” Great, they think, I look fat. This dress is making me look fat. My face is all puffy. Everyone is talking about how fat I am. Maybe I need to stop eating right now.
No wonder they sometimes hide in corners, avoiding eye contact, during family get-togethers. Their body language is closed, forbidding. Don’t talk to me. Don’t tell me that things will get better. Don’t ask me how I’m doing or if I’m going back to school or if I’m done with treatment. Don’t ask me anything.
The best approach is not to ignore the eating disorder individual’s presence, but to approach them with kindness and sensitivity. Let them know you are glad to see them. Instead of commenting on their clothing; praise their shoes, jewelry or hairstyle if appropriate. Maybe you have a happy memory that you want to share with them to let them know that they are an important part of your life. Maybe you want to share something interesting that happen to you to help take the perceived focus off of them. To engage in conversation is important and a positive optimistic twist such as talking about their pets, new people in their lives, or television shows will go a long way to diminish the awkwardness. Getting together as friends and families are a time to connect—a time to let each one of us know that we are not alone, that we are part of something greater than ourselves, that we are part of a family. You can count on us. We’ll be there for you.
Article Contributed by our Sponsor ~ Remuda Ranch Treatment Center
Last reviewed: By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 23, 2017
Page last updated: February 23, 2017
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorders Treatment Information