So often, we get asked by caregivers and loved ones how they can most effectively support someone with an eating disorder. To answer this question, we went to visit the amazing clients getting care at our Peabody clinic to share what would be most helpful for them. Here’s what they came up with!
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all concept and that the suggestions below could work well for some and maybe unhelpful to others. When in doubt, ask!
Be my cheerleader, not the police.
If I’m in treatment, it is likely that I have a full team of professionals who are equipping me with the tools I need to take care of myself appropriately. I understand that when you hyper-focus on what I’m eating, how I’m eating or what I’m doing, its because you’re trying to be helpful. I think it’s important for you to know that this ‘policing’ actually has the opposite effect and it can even make me shut down completely.
If I engage in a behavior, please don’t chastise me. I am probably already furious with and ashamed of myself and need your compassion. If I ‘slip up,’ tell me that it’s okay. Remind me that these things are a normal part of recovery and tell me that you will be there to help keep me pushing forward.
VALIDATE my experience.
It is human nature to try to ‘fix’ things by providing advice…unsolicited though it may be. What I need from you is compassion and understanding. Instead of saying, “Meditation helped me with my anxiety, you should try that!” try “It sounds like this is really hard work. I’m here for you whatever you may need.”
Give me reassurance that you will love me unconditionally.
It’s really easy for my eating disorder to tell me that nobody will love me if I gain weight or if I relapse. What I need to know is that you will be there through all of the ups and downs of my healing journey.
Engage me in activities that don’t involve food or exercise.
Eating disorders thrive in isolation. Even if I say no, which I probably will keep inviting me places. This helps to remind me that people still want me around. Invite me to do activities that are food and weight-neutral. I went to paint night with a few of my friends and it helped me begin to feel ‘normal’ again.
Stop talking to me about your diet.
When people talk about diets, it makes me question all of the awesome work that I’m doing in treatment. Please stop assuming that I want to know about your eating habits.
Understand that my eating disorder serves a purpose.
I think a lot of people don’t understand that there’s a reason that my eating disorder exists. While there is certainly a body image and self-worth component for many, I use behaviors to escape, numb, avoid or distract myself from uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health condition.
See me as more than my eating disorder.
We are mothers, brothers, sons, teachers, students and so much more than our diagnoses. I am so blessed to have this incredible boss who left me a card that said, ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through, please do whatever you have to do to take care of yourself…” Knowing that I was valued as a professional who had a hiccup was so validating.
Your support is critical in my recovery.
I know that it isn’t easy loving someone who has an eating disorder. I know that it can feel like you are helpless sometimes. Please know that we appreciate your support so much even if we may not say it.
If someone you love is living with an eating disorder, there is hope here at Walden. Contact us today to learn more about our support services.