Are you worried that someone you love might be struggling with an eating disorder? Does it seem that they’re always on a diet, or that their commitment to fitness has gone overboard? Perhaps you’ve noticed that large amounts of food are disappearing from the kitchen, or the school has shared that your child isn’t eating his or her lunches anymore.
The symptoms and statistics we hear about eating disorders can be scary for anyone to hear. And if you’re a parent or loved one of someone who has an eating disorder, those numbers can chill you to the core. But as frightening as the idea of an eating disorder can be, it’s essential to know that recovery is possible. It can, and does happen, and there are ways you can provide support through the process.
So, what can you do to help your loved one?
First of all, take a deep breath. Eating disorders are serious business, but they’re also treatable. We know that recovery is possible. You’re going to have a lot of fears and questions, but do the very best you can to remain calm.
Take care of yourself. This is going to be different for every person, but generally, it means getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising gently and mindfully, and doing things that nurture you, whether that means listening to music, practicing your faith, or spending time with friends. Living with and loving someone with an eating disorder can be truly stressful, so consider seeing a counsellor or therapist to work through your own feelings.
Many fears are caused by the unknown. You might wonder, will she get better? Why did this happen to him? Or even, was it me? Get informed about eating disorders, their causes, and what recovery looks like. Attend workshops and support groups, and connect with other people who have been there.
The media are a major source of influence on all of us, and the stereotypes that promote unhealthy dieting and eating disordered behaviours are sold to us by advertisers. Become a critic of the media, and make your home a body-friendly zone. This might mean getting rid of the fashion and fitness magazines full of airbrushed models, noticing the unrealistic and unhealthy bodies on television and in movies, or calling out offensive blogs or emails that you read.
Check in around your own behaviours. Do you complain about your body, or call yourself names? Are you always on a diet, or wishing that you were? Do you beat yourself up for missing a workout, or do you compliment others on their weight loss? We know that while all diets don’t lead to an eating disorder, all eating disorders start as diets, and your loved one will likely notice the hypocrisy if you’re wanting them to get better while counting calories yourself. Make an effort to love your body and yourself just as you are right now.
Avoid commenting on your loved one’s appearance. Many people with eating disorders have said that regardless of what is said to them about their body, the eating disorder has a way of twisting it into a negative statement that ends up fueling the eating disorder. For example, “You’re looking better” equals “you look fat” and “You look too thin” equals “You must be doing something right!!” Not quite your intention, right? Save both yourself and your loved one the distress, and take body comments out of the picture for now.
Separate the person from the eating disorder. This is probably one of the hardest things to do, because when you see your loved one hurting themselves, it’s hard to understand. But as much as you can, remember that your loved one is still in there. Eating disorders make good people do strange things. They might make bad choices or use words that hurt, or they might isolate themselves or push you away. Remember that they are ill right now and that the eating disorder is like a cloud covering who they really are inside.
Encourage your loved one to get into treatment. If your loved one is under 18, insist that they get help right away.
Remember that people move through different stages of readiness to change. This doesn’t mean they will never move towards recovery, but it can be very frustrating when it’s clear to you there is a problem, and they are denying it. Offer your support, even if the person isn’t quite ready to accept it.
If you want to learn more about eating disorders, their causes, and their treatment, join us during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The Provincial Eating Disorder Prevention and Recovery program is offering a free community education forum on Wednesday, February 5th. We would love for you to join us! The forum is open to everyone, including parents, professionals, and community members. Feel free to contact us with any questions about the event, or if you are concerned for someone you love and need more information. Click here for more information about our EDAW events.