Watching someone you love suffer from an eating disorder is incredibly difficult and sometimes scary. Eating disorders can often create anxiety for the whole family, as trying to help can sometimes feel hopeless.
So how can you support someone on the road to recovery? This guide should provide some advice and the basic tools you can use to help someone who is suffering to get the professional help they need.
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Acceptance is the first step, and you’ll need to be open to their feelings without trying to rationalize them – even if you don’t agree. Feelings of unworthiness or a lack of self-confidence could be validated with phrases like ‘I hear you, and see you’. Sometimes, you might not even have to say anything to support them; simply holding their hand as they discuss their feelings could be enough.
As with any suffering, we’re always going to feel desperate to help. But recovery from an eating disorder can’t be rushed, so try not to add pressure to the process by forcing new eating habits or being too overbearing. It’s much better to leave these sorts of things to the professionals while you focus on supporting them with the emotional side of the condition.
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Help with functional tasks
Your role as a relative or friend isn’t to ‘fix’ them but to support them along their road to recovery. As it can be painful to sit back and watch, there are plenty of other ways you can help: doing the laundry, walking the dog, dropping them at work, and so on, which are all small acts of kindness that can really take the pressure off.
Remember to share the caregiving between the whole family too, and help each other to feel strong enough to keep going, even when feeling a little defeatist.
If you feel like things are getting too much, specialist programs like Eden Treatment aren’t just for those suffering from eating disorders; professionals will be more than happy to help support the whole family and provide advice on how to get through the difficult times together.
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It’s a good idea to stay away from thoughts and feelings relating to eating, food, or appearance. However, reinforcing positive thoughts regarding other areas of life can help redirect the conversation.
Offer praise and love, as this can go further than you think when it comes to emotional recovery.
Encourage them to seek professional help
Even if you’ve educated yourself on the condition and tried to offer as much support as possible, you still might struggle with giving your loved one what they need.
It’s much better to encourage someone suffering to seek professional help on their own, with people who are specifically trained to identify signs and provide education and counseling to support them every step of the way.
Providing emotional support can go a long way – perhaps longer than you might realize. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental health recovery or eating disorder treatment. Just being there when needed, educating yourself, spreading positivity, and being you is enough.
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