Eating disorders affect the entire family system
Watching a loved one struggle with an eating disorder is challenging. Like so many families that we work with, you may feel tired, lonely, powerless and even hopeless. While dealing with these emotions is not easy, and the recovery process is not always linear, we will be here for and with you and your entire family through every step of the way. Our experienced and compassionate team of care professionals understand what you are going through and will do their best to ensure that your loved one’s recovery process feels as comfortable and collaborative as possible.
At Walden Behavioral Care, we recognize the vital role that family members and loved ones play in the healing trajectory of those in our care. Eating disorders thrive in isolation and for that reason, you will be treated as a key member of your loved one’s treatment team when they are in our care. We incorporate key aspects of Family-Based Treatment (FBT) in our treatment of teens because it is the most strongly supported treatment modality for adolescents with eating disorders. You will play active roles in helping your child to reduce disordered eating behaviors, restore health and balance and resume proper adolescent development.
We know that FBT can work given the results of our independent pilot study of adolescents completing our intensive outpatient program: 75% to 90% were medically recovered at their five-year follow-up.
For families and loved ones of adults living with eating disorders, we do our best to encourage active participation in treatment. While family involvement isn’t as extensive in our adult program, we do not underestimate your profound value. An individual on the road to recovery can never have enough support. Your participation in weekly therapy sessions can help you to learn how to support your loved one better, receive education about the disorder and get the validation that you deserve.
Warning Signs of Eating Disorders
Do you think someone you love may be struggling with an eating disorder? The list below might help you better understand warning signs. While an individual living with an eating disorder probably won’t exhibit all of these symptoms, the following list is meant to be a general overview of behaviors that could indicate a more serious problem.
- Change in mental status
- Difficulty concentrating and/or processing information
- Expressing body-image concerns
- Sudden weight loss, gain or fluctuation in a short amount of time
- Feeling faint, cold, tired or fatigued.
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of menstrual period
- Dry skin, brittle nails, hair breakage/loss
- Ritualistic and/or chaotic food intake
- Body checking – Could use a mirror, the keeping/tracking body measurements or consistently comparing their body to other’s
- Excessive exercise – For long periods of time or the inability to miss a day
- Sudden shift in diet – Like changing to vegan or gluten-free.
- Frequent trips to the bathroom
- Wearing baggy clothing
How to Support a Loved One With an Eating Disorder
Educate yourself! Do your research to understand the differences between eating disorder facts and eating disorder myths. It will help you identify times when your loved one may need more support. Educating yourself about eating disorders allows you to be a more effective advocate for your loved one.
Validate that what they are doing is difficult — because it is! Imagine having to confront your deepest fear four to five times a day. This is what your loved one is doing every time they eat a meal/snack. Let them know that you understand that what they are doing isn’t easy and that you admire their bravery and perseverance.
Ask them what you can do to support them. Don’t walk on eggshells. The best thing you can do is to be transparent and ask them what support they need. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they will appreciate your taking the time to learn how best to help them.
Try to avoid talking about external and physical appearances — whether it be about yours, theirs or anyone else’s. Instead, comment on an internal quality that you admire such as bravery or sense of humor.
Try to avoid discussing diets or exercise regimens. It can ignite the eating disorder and make your loved one uncomfortable and anxious. Try instead to eat nourishing meals together to encourage that mealtimes can and should be positive experiences.
Be caring, but firm. Set strict boundaries regarding actions and consequences and stick to them! Being supportive doesn’t mean being manipulated by the eating disorder. What’s most important is following through on boundaries or expectations that you have set regarding your relationship.
Be a good role model for your loved one. Live your life as you wish they were able to live theirs. Practice self-care and self-acceptance, eat healthfully and exercise to feel good, not to look good.
Ask for help. Do not promise your friend that you won’t tell anyone if they disclose their eating disorder to you. Eating disorders are dangerous and life-threatening diseases and need expert care. It is not worth risking your friend’s life to avoid having them angry with you.
Resources for Families
It is essential to educate yourself if your loved one has an eating disorder. The following organizations can help you better understand their diagnosis, learn tips and advice for helping them manage symptoms and connect you with other people who understand what you’re experiencing.
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders
ANRED is a nonprofit organization that provides information about anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and other lesser known food and weight disorders. Their material includes self-help tips and information about recovery and prevention.
Eating Disorders Coalition
Eating Disorders Coalition was developed to advance the federal recognition of eating disorders as a public health priority.
Eating Disorder Hope™
Eating Disorder Hope™ offers education, support and inspiration to eating disorder sufferers, their loved ones and eating-disorders treatment providers. Eating Disorder Hope resources include articles on eating-disorder treatment options, support groups, recovery tools and more. Whether an individual struggles with bulimia, anorexia, body-image distortion or binge-eating disorder, Eating Disorder Hope can help.
F.E.A.S.T. is an international organization of and for parents and caregivers to help loved ones recover from eating disorders. The group provides information and mutual support, promotes evidence-based treatment and advocates for research and education to reduce the suffering associated with eating disorders.
Foundation for Research and Education in Eating Disorders (FREED)
FREED is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help determine the causes and risks associated with developing eating disorders; facilitate the development of treatments; and promote education, prevention and recovery from these illnesses. The organization’s vision is a nation in which eating disorders are entirely preventable, manageable and recoverable.
Lisa’s Light of Hope
Lisa’s Light of Hope brings eating disorders out of the darkness and is a charitable fund created to raise awareness, support treatment and education in affiliation with Baystate Health Behavioral Health.
Maudsley Parents was created in 2006 by parents who helped their children recover with family-based treatment. The group offers hope and help to other families confronting eating disorders. They provide information on eating disorders and family-based treatment, family stories of recovery, supportive parent-to-parent advice and treatment information for those who opt for family-based Maudsley treatment.
MEDA – Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association
MEDA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating. MEDA’s mission is to prevent the continuing spread of eating disorders through educational awareness and early detection. MEDA serves as a support network and resource for clients, loved ones, clinicians, educators and the general public.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research. It is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope for all of those in need.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD) is a nonprofit corporation that seeks to prevent and alleviate the problems of eating disorders, especially including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. ANAD advocates for the development of healthy attitudes, bodies and behaviors. Additionally, it promotes eating-disorder awareness, prevention and recovery through supporting, educating and connecting individuals, families and professionals.
NEDA – National Eating Disorders Association
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. They campaign for prevention, improved access to quality treatment and increased research funding to better understand and treat eating disorders. They work with partners and volunteers to develop programs and tools to help everyone who seeks assistance.
National Eating Disorders Screening Program
Screening for Mental Health offers eating-disorder screening programs for colleges and universities, community-based organizations and businesses.
National Institute of Mental Health
The mission of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and a cure. For the Institute to continue fulfilling this vital public health mission, it must foster innovative thinking and ensure that a full array of novel scientific perspectives are used to further discovery in the evolving science of brain, behavior and experience. In this way, breakthroughs in science can become breakthroughs for all people with mental illnesses.
The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness
The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness (The Alliance) is dedicated to providing programs and activities aimed at outreach and education related to health promotion, including all eating disorders, positive body image and self-esteem. The Alliance is committed to the advocacy, awareness and funding for eating-disorders prevention.
We Are Diabetes
We Are Diabetes is an organization primarily devoted to promoting support and awareness for type 1 diabetics who suffer from eating disorders. They are dedicated to providing guidance, hope and resources to those who may be struggling, as well as to their families and loved ones.