How to Cope with a Loved One who Has an Eating Disorder

Realizing that someone you love has an eating disorder is frightening and disturbing. You want to help, but you’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. If you are willing to take the risk of reaching out, though, your kindness and support may make all the difference to your loved one.

Let Your Loved One Know You Care
We live in a culture that makes it very hard to say things like “I love you,” “I care about you” or “I’m worried about you.” Just those simple phrases, though, can take a huge burden off the shoulders of someone with an eating disorder. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy and shame. Knowing that you know the secret and are not disgusted by it makes it easier for your loved one to reach out to other sources of help. Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to “fix” your loved one’s eating disorder. Just express sympathy, compassion, and concern.

Help Your Loved One Find Treatment
Getting over an eating disorder is not a do-it-yourself project. Your loved one needs help that you are not qualified to give. If your loved one is reluctant to seek help, offer support and encouragement but don’t try to force the issue. It may help your loved one to hear that a variety of treatments are available to meet the needs of all sorts of people. Many people find that individual and group counseling are helpful. Still others choose to work with an inpatient program such as Center for Change that specializes in treatment for eating disorders. Insurance usually covers at least part of the care for the treatment of eating disorders.

Avoid Using Shame or Threats
Dealing with someone who has an eating disorder can be frustrating, especially if that person is refusing to seek treatment. When you’re worried and angry, it’s easy to say hurtful things or to threaten to take drastic actions like going to court and having your loved one declared incompetent. Words like these, though, will only make the other person stop trusting you. If you are upset, let your loved one know by making “I” statements. For instance, “I get worried and upset when you purge so often; I’d really like to see you get the help you need” instead of, “Making yourself puke like that is just gross. You better cut it out, or I’m out of here!”

Loving someone with an eating disorder is hard work. There are times when the relationship might try your patience. Do your best to show compassion and to encourage your loved one to seek the help he or she so desperately needs. You can make a difference in your loved one’s life.

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