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.
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, what comes after the diagnosis can be even harder. Successful treatment of eating disorders is a long process which can take many years, and can involve irregular progress and setbacks.
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?
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. There are many underlying issues.
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.
The best thing that you can do is provide support. 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.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml. Updated 2011. Accessed September 12, 2013.
Help for family and friends. National Eating Disorder Information Centre. Available at: http://www.nedic.ca/giveandgethelp/helpforfriendsfamily.shtml. Accessed September 12, 2013.
What should I say? National Eating Disorders Association. Available at: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-should-i-say. Accessed September 12, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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