Living with someone with an eating disorder
Living with somebody with an eating disorder can often leave you feeling frustrated and helpless.
It’s not always easy to feel certain about what you can do to help the person you care about. Here are some ideas for anybody living with someone experiencing an eating disorder – from parents and siblings to grandparents, children and partners. You can also download a fact sheet on Self-Care for Carers.
1. Encourage the person to seek professional help
Overcoming an eating disorder can be very difficult without assistance, so accessing professional help is an important goal.
2. Encourage the person to recognise their other skills and attributes
Use your knowledge of the person to encourage them to see the positive effects change can bring.
Keep communication positive and open - take time to talk about a variety of topics. Focusing on the eating difficulties creates a stressful environment which may result in the person withdrawing from contact with you.
3. Use laughter as a means of communication
The use of laughter and humour is a great communication tool.
4. Take the focus off food and weight
The person with the eating disorder is already over focused on food and weight issues.
5. Mealtimes should not become a battleground
Frustrations and emotions need to be expressed but not at meal times; this is already likely to be a difficult time.
6. Accept limitations in your responsibilities -
The support and encouragement of family and friends is vital, however it is the person with the eating disorder’s responsibility to take the necessary steps towards recovery.
7. Consider promoting independence as a long-term goal
It is healthy and developmentally appropriate for adolescents and young adults to work towards increasing independence, however, this can be difficult if the person is unwell and unable to make good decisions for themselves. It is well-recognised that family members can play an important role in supporting recovery of an eating disorder, however the level of family intervention and involvement will depend on the person’s age, the degree to which their health might be compromised, and other factors such as living arrangements and meal support.
8. Set boundaries
If someone is behaving in a way that is difficult for you, it is okay to let them know that their behaviour is not acceptable. Only set boundaries you can enforce.
9. Do things as you usually would
The person with the eating disorder needs to learn to co-exist with food and with other people, rather than others learning to co-exist with the eating disorder. Try not to make any changes to meal times, food shopping, outings, topics of conversation, or other interests.
10. Separate the person from the disorder
Remind yourself the person’s behaviour is often a symptom of the eating disorder rather than a reflection of their character.
11. Enjoy things together
It is important not to let the eating disorder become the focus of the family or relationship. Continue to enjoy things together that you have always done.
12. Build the person's self esteem
Try and focus on their positive behaviours rather than the more destructive ones.
13. Spend time with other members of the family or friendship group
The person with the eating disorder is important, but no more so than other people. Try to avoid a situation where siblings or partners feel neglected.
14. Accept your limitations as a family member or friend
You cannot deal with all the problems associated with the disorder. Your role as a family member or friend is unique and something that a therapist can’t be, just as the therapist’s role is something a family member or friend can’t take on.
15. Become informed
Information about eating disorders, recovery stories, developing coping strategies and attending support groups can be useful. There are many resources and books written for families and friends. A list of some recommended reading is located in the Borrow a Book section of this website.
16. Look after yourself
Get as much support and information as you need. Support groups, relatives, friends, counsellors, telephone support lines and other professionals may be useful. Looking after yourself is as important as looking after the person with the eating disorder.
17. Be patient
Eating disorders are complicated and recovery can take some time. Sometimes it’s important to remind yourself that the person does not want to be unwell, but they lack the ability to overcome the disorder quickly. There is no specific timeframe for recovery.
How EDV can help:
- EDV Psychology offers private psychology sessions for individuals with an eating disorder and friends and family who are supporting a loved one.
- Support Groups across Victoria for people with an eating disorder as well as their friends and family.
- We have an Online Recovery Forum for people with an eating disorder, and the SANE Carers Forum aimed at family and carers.
- EDV members can borrow books from our specialist library. Find out more about joining here.
- Last revision date: Wednesday, 02 December 2015 15:04