A Family's Guide to Tackling Eating Disorders
by Karen Asp
Patients with eating disorders are not the only ones who suffer. The struggle becomes a family affair. While there are things families should try to avoid doing or saying, there are just as many things that they can do to help not only their loved one, but also themselves.
The Long Road to Recovery
Learning that someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder is never easy. The initial diagnosis may come as a shock. But, for some people and their loved ones however, what comes after the diagnosis can be even harder. Successful treatment of eating disorders is a long process, which can involve irregular progress and setbacks.
"Progress in an eating disorder is measured in years," says Carolyn Costin, director of the Monte Nido Treatment Center in California. "Recovery will take a long time, and you have to prepare yourself for that."
"Recovery is attainable, but it is a matter of being patient and allowing that recovery process to happen," says Julie Clark-Sly, PhD, a director at the Center for Change in Utah.
Understandably, though, there will be times when your patience is tested, like when your loved one returns to destructive behaviors. So what can you do?
Ways to Educate Yourself TOP
Perhaps the first step in helping your loved one recover is educating yourself about eating disorders. People often assume that eating disorders are about food and weight, but that is not true. "Eating disorders are about underlying issues," says Julie DeLettre Holland, MS, an eating disorder specialist in Georgia.
To deal with those issues, your loved one will need to work with a therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, has shown to be useful for treating people with eating disorders. Involving the whole family in therapy is another effective strategy to help with the recovery process.
In addition, you can attend educational meetings to find out more about eating disorders, including the possible causes, related health problems, and treatments. If your loved one is getting special care at a treatment center, the staff may offer classes for family members. Joining a support group may also be beneficial for you.
Do not forget about taking care of your own needs, though! Clark-Sly adds, ""You have to take a break from the problem, especially if your loved one lives at home."
Recovery Strategies TOP
The best thing that you can do is provide support. "She needs the family to be a steady, stable force of love and support," Clark-Sly says. Here are some actions you can take to make things easier for you and your loved one:
With care from doctors and therapists and support from friends and family, it is possible for your loved one to recover from an eating disorder.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
National Eating Disorders Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Eating disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.ni.... Accessed May 5, 2011.
Help for family and friends. National Eating Disorder Information Centre. Available at: http://www.nedic.ca/giveandgethelp/helpforfriendsfamily.shtml. Accessed May 5, 2011.
What should I say? National Eating Disorders Association. Available at: http://www.nationa.... Published 2005. Accessed May 5, 2011.
Last reviewed May 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 5/5/2011