Supporting a Loved One With an Eating Disorder
Caring for a loved one with an eating disorder can be overwhelming. You probably feel confused about their behaviors and how to help. We can help you to help them. Many people who have loved ones with an eating disorder reach out to us for support for themselves.
How Can Therapy for Loved Ones of Those With an Eating Disorder Help?
We offer consults and sessions for caregivers of people with eating disorders. If you have a child, an adult child, a spouse, or another loved one with an eating disorder, we can help. While we cannot diagnose someone who is not our patient, we often provide psychotherapy for caregivers and other loved ones, including partners. Our eating disorder therapists can provide psychoeducation to help you understand factors that can contribute to and maintain an eating disorder. We can help you to make sense of what your loved one is experiencing and help educate you about how to be supportive while not enabling the eating disorder. We can also discuss treatment options that you can discuss with your loved one.
If you are supporting a partner with an eating disorder and they are in therapy, we encourage you to ask if you can join in a session with them. When we see adult clients with eating disorders, we often offer a couples session or two. In these sessions—with permission from our client—we provide psychoeducation about their eating disorder and anything they want to share. We also help facilitate a dialogue about ways you can support them in their recovery. This might include things to say, how to support regular eating, how to manage triggers, and more. By opening this dialogue in the safe space of therapy we can create a blanket of support around the person with the eating disorder. Many of our clients find that involving their support people in sessions is really helpful.
Supporting a Child, Teen, or Adult Child With an Eating Disorder
If you are a parent or caregiver of a teen or young adult, we can help you to support your loved one using FBT principles. We love the work of empowering parents to take the difficult steps of helping their teen or young adult through recovery, especially when that person is too caught in the disorder to seek treatment independently. Whether working with just parents or the whole family, we use the principles of FBT to empower caregivers to drive the recovery process for a teen or young adult in their home and occasionally remotely. If your teen or young adult is in treatment that is not FBT-based, we can also work with you to be supportive advocates.
Tips for All Loved Ones of Those with Eating Disorders
Get educated. Learn about their specific eating disorder and treatment options. Becoming an educated consumer will make a difference. Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (FEAST) is a great place to start. We also recommend ANAD and the Alliance for Eating Disorders which offer support groups and education.
Understand that it is not your fault that your loved one developed or is living with an eating disorder. Guilt is common, but it’s misplaced and blocks you from being an effective support for recovery. Also, recognize that your loved one did not choose the eating disorder. Externalizing the eating disorder as something separate from your loved one can help.
Recognize that eating disorders can become serious and entrenched and even lethal if left untreated. Focus on helping your loved one get appropriate care even when they don’t want it.
Find educated providers and work to help your loved one get professional help. Do some research to learn about resources in your community and based on your loved one’s finances and insurance. Helping do the legwork can make it easier for them to reach out.
Ask your loved one how you can support them. Offer compassion for their struggle. But don’t fully accommodate their eating disorder if it makes you more resentful. For example, if they are unwilling to go to eat at a restaurant and it’s something you enjoy doing, you can go without them.
Divest from diet culture. Recognize that any talk about dieting—or good and bad foods, or fear of weight gain—only makes recovery harder for your loved one. Educate yourself about the importance of an anti-diet approach to recovery and aim to surround your loved one with a buffer against the cultural messages promoting thinness.