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How family and friends are affected

Home ~ For family and friends ~ How family and friends are affected

This page looks at the common reactions for family and friends of someone experiencing an eating disorder and tips for looking after yourself.

Common reactions

Parents, siblings, partners, friends, extended family, work colleagues and others often experience many different feelings as they learn to cope with the effects of the eating disorder on the person they care about and how it impacts their own lives.

 There is no ‘right’ way to feel about someone you love developing an eating disorder. It can be an incredibly confusing, sad and scary environment and the strain of living with the eating disorder can create tensions and divisions within a family or friendship group. Each person involved will be affected in different ways. Common reactions include:

Confusion about:

  • The eating disorder and recovery process
  • Why this has happened
  • The best way to handle the illness in the family, partnership or friendship circle etc
  • Knowing what to say and how to say it
  • How to support the person

Grief and anger about:

  • Loss of the person’s mental and physical health
  • Change in the person’s behaviour, denial of problem and/or refusal to get help
  • The difficulties or changes the eating disorder is creating in the family, partnership or friendship circle
  • Not being able to make the person well
  • Loss of time alone and/or with other family members/friends
  • Loss of trust for the person who may behave deceptively
  • Feeling a loss for the person who may have lost sight of their goals and ambitions

Guilt or fear about:

  • Being responsible for the eating disorder
  • Not recognising the eating disorder earlier
  • Not providing effective support and help that is required to promote recovery
  • That the person may not recover

While these feelings are completely normal, carers need to remember to take time out for themselves to restore energy. Moreover, carers often neglect to find support for themselves, which would assist them in managing their own emotions. It is important to balance the health of the person you are caring for with your own wellness and health. Looking after yourself will also make you better able to support a loved one.

Self-care

Self-care is the ability to take care of one’s basic needs. Practicing self-care as a carer is a vitally important step to take when we begin to feel swamped in the emotions that are a normal part of the recovery process.

This includes emotional needs such as managing anxiety, anger and sadness. It involves attending to your own needs even when other people’s actions or demands make this difficult to do. Caring for someone with an eating disorder can interfere with our ability to take care of ourselves.

What can I do to take care of myself?

It is important to take time out from thinking about your loved one’s illness and struggles and not to feel guilty for doing so. Some helpful self-care strategies can be found below:

  • Prioritise and schedule time-outs/small breaks to give yourself time for relaxation and to help you stay calm.
  • Engage in activities that you enjoy and that may distract you from the eating disorder, for example seeing a friend, reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, singing, going for a walk/run, gardening, or exercising.
  • Pamper yourself.
  • Ensure that you are eating nutritious meals.
  • Cuddle with a pet or take your dog for a walk.
  • Try to get out of the house and away from the eating disorder.
  • Sit and enjoy the sunshine with a herbal tea or a good book.
  • Practice breathing exercises or relaxation techniques. This may help if you are having trouble sleeping.
  • Take a nap or rest to recharge.
  • See a therapist for your own mental health and to develop strategies on how to support your loved one.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what you are going through. Seek the support of friends and family when you need to vent your feelings.
  • Ask other family members to step in and spend time with your loved one, outside of meal times. This will provide you with some guilt-free time out and your loved one with a fresh face.

For more tips, download our fact sheet

The importance of looking after yourself

Watch more of Sarah’s experience as the sister of someone with an eating disorder here.

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